BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL

INSTANTKARMAGIRL

The Girl and Jayne Cobb Part 3
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

River reveals her past to the only person on Serenity that doesn't want to fix her.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2248    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Title: The Girl and Jayne Cobb Author: Instant Karma Girl Date: Started July 2008 – Ended August 2008 Words: 45,734 (Entire Story – all parts) Disclaimer: Joss is Boss and I would do nothing to detract from him. He and others own the ‘Verse…I just wish they played in it again. Author’s Note: I haven’t provided translations for the Chinese because they didn’t on the show and if you use your imagination (and a translator), you can get the gist. This is my first Firefly fic. I hope you like it! Thank you Michelle!!

When we landed on Eirene, all of my stuff was packed. All my weapons were in my crate, all my clothes were in my bag. I looked around my bunk and there was nothing of me left in it. Eirene was not the best planet for a mercenary to find work, since everything was for the most part peaceful and utopian there. But it would have to do.

I took a deep breath and moved through the door. When I got to the catwalk, I heard Mal say “Where the hell’s Jayne?” I smiled just a little, then descended down the stairs. Mal started explaining the mission, musta thought that I was just coming down to join them, but when I didn’t stop, his words died off. Musta saw all my stuff too.

I walked right past all of them. Didn’t want to look because I’d see Kaylee looking at me with those eyes that’d be full of saddness. I have to admit, I’d miss that girl. Hell, I’d probably end up missin’ all of them at some point. Zoe and I had some times, laughing at the captian’s expense, but she was the captain’s man through and through. Just ask Wash. And Inara, she’d been kind to me, not in the sexual way, but in a way of understanding that perhaps there was more to me than what I showed.

The bay doors were open and I was almost through them when Mal stopped me, his hand on my shoulder. “Where you going, Jayne? I’m in the middle of explaining the job.”

“Yeah, about that. Think you’re gonna be one merc short, *Captain*,” I said, stressing his title.

He shook his head. “Not quite understanding.”

“And everyone says that I’m the dense one.” I stood there with two bags over my shoulder and my crate of weapons. “Let me spell it out for you. Your money ain’t good enough anymore, Mal.”

“Is this because…” he started, but I didn’t let him finish. I was aware that everyone was watchin’ us.

“This is because this ain’t a boat I’m welcome on. I pull my weight, same as the rest, hell, more than most of the rest, yet I’m treated the worst. You want to play at being the boss but you baby the lot of them, except me.” I lowered my voice for the next part. “You want to be secret companions with Inara and you let the doctor bang the sweet little mechanic, but you can’t stand to see me care about…anyone.” I cleared my throat. “The money ain’t good enough for that.”

“But I owe you for…”

“Not carin’, Mal.”

His face was full of confusion. A mercenary turnin’ down money? “But I owe you for,” he tried again, but I cut him off once more.

“Convert it into credits and send ‘em to my mother.” Mal shook his head, crossed his arms and stood in front of me. “You ain’t my captain, Malcom, stand down or I’ll gut you in front of your crew.” I watched as something dimmed in his eyes. He moved to the side and I walked down the ramp, away from the crew of Serenity, away from River.

Eirene was a beautiful place with a lot of happy little townfolk. I got many strange looks as I walked through the town. Prolly not many rough looking guys with knives and guns strapped to their belts, totin’ a box of weapons walking down their dirt roads.

The first thing I wanted to do, other than get Serenity and her crew outta my head, was to grab a drink at a local watering hole. I’d be able to inquire about jobs there too. I walked through the entire town and didn’t find one tavern. Stopping at the last house, I spotted a man tilling his fields. “Hey there,” I said, loudly. He stopped and slowly moved towards me. “I’m lookin’ for a pub.”

He looked at me strangely, eyeing my weapons. “Then you’re looking in the wrong place. We don’t have any ‘round here. Only one I know of is up in Water’s Edge, ‘bout twenty miles north of here.”

Shit. How the hell was I gonna find work in a place like this? Great job, Jayne, what a good idea. You can get off on a Utopian planet that doesn’t like vice of any kind. Stupid. “There any transports from here to there?” The man shook his head. “Jen dao mei!”

“Tell you what,” he said to me, his face relaxing. “I’ll give you that horse over there,” he said, pointing to a little filly.

“You gonna just give me a horse?”

He smiled kindly. “Well, we might be a peaceful place, but people are expected to pitch in and pull their own weight.”

“I’m good at that. What do you need?”

“Take those bushels of feed to Water’s Edge for me and you can keep the horse.”

Seemed like a good deal. Twenty miles to haul a few bushels of corn to the next town and I got a filly outta it. As I left town, I knew that Mal’s crew would be starting their job. It wasn’t that I was having regrets, but it’s never easy setting out on your own after having a group of people around you.

The trip to River’s Edge…I meant, Water’s Edge was a piece of cake. I dropped the load to the man the farmer told me to, then moved into town, finding the tavern easily. What was not easy was finding disreputable men in this tavern. I struck up a dozen conversations with a dozen different people and not one of them yielded anything more than farm work.

Finally, after several beers, I asked the guy next to me where the nearest space hub was. “About 100 miles west.” I stood up and placed a few bills on the bar. “Should think about waiting.” I looked down at the man. “Storm’s acoming. Make for a hard journey settin’ out.” He stood up. “I can’t offer you a place in my home for the night, on account of all those weapons you’re toting, but I can offer you the use of my barn. It’s dry and warm and will weather the storm just fine.”

“Why would you do that?” The man just looked at me with a question in his eyes.

“It’s the right thing to do, giving shelter from the storm.”

So I set down in his barn, which was about 5 miles from the tavern. My filly had fresh cut hay to eat and the man’s woman came out and gave me a hot plate of food. This was an interesting rock. Everyone looking out for everyone else, being nice to people they ain’t even know. It reminded me of Serenity.

And that pissed me off. Gorram Mal for not trusting me after all we’d been though. Gorram Kaylee for being so damn cheerful that I couldn’t help but care about her. Gorram Zoe for being my friend and Gorram River for making me love her. Pi Hua! Did I just think that? What the tai kong hou was wrong with me? And who cared if I did love her. I wouldn’t ever see her again now. Why the hell did I have to have a moral high horse and leave that ship? Why hadn’t I asked her to come with me?

Why didn’t you?

I nearly jumped outta my skin when I heard her voice in my mind. My eyes popped open and I sat up from the bale of straw I’d been laying on. There she was, her hair damp and the blue little dress I bought her soaked right through. “Jesus, girl, what the hell are you doing here?”

“Following you.”

“Obviously,” I said, moving to take her into my arms, tossing her bag to the ground. She was shivering she was so cold. The barn was warm, but not warm enough to keep her from getting sick. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t let her get sick like Sarah and Matt did.

Quickly, I grabbed my canvas coat from my duffle and wrapped it around her, then positioned the straw bales into a semi circle, helping to close off any drafts. I positioned her inside of it, and then grabbed my half eaten plate of food. “Here, it’s not hot, but it’s still warm, eat.”

“Thank you,” she said before accepting the food and eating.

“What the hell are ya doin’ here, girl.”

“Not girl. River.”

“Fine. River,” I said, with a bit of annoyance. “What are you doing here, River?”

“Couldn’t let you go away. You’re the only one that knows and the ship was cold and quiet without you there.”

“But your brother and Mal…”

She nodded, swallowed the last bit of food, and smiled, “They’re looking for me. But they won’t find me. I’m trained not to leave a trail.” I shook my head. I was so happy to see her, to have her with me, but it wasn’t right. She wasn’t meant to stay with me. Her brother took care of her in a way that I could never. “Don’t think those things. I am here and I am meant to be here.”

“You shouldn’t be here, River,” I said, even though she already heard it in my thoughts. “You’re safer on Serenity. Your brother’s there to help you, the captain to protect you, Kaylee to be a friend to…”

“I’m safe with you. Where Jayne Cobb goes River goes or River will be gone. Jayne is here to help me. Jayne can protect me. Jayne is my friend. If you are not on Serenity, I cannot be on Serenity.”

I sighed. “Yeah, well, Serenity ain’t the place for me no more. Bunch of rules that don’t apply to anyone but me.”

“They don’t understand, it’s true, but understanding is problematic. One must share similar experiences or be willing to imagine things they know not of in order to understand.”

“Preacher told me once that true understanding was divine. That it took much more than just knowing. It took being ready to know.”

“Shepherd Books was a wise man.”

I sat down and drew her close to me, trying to calm her shivers. “You shouldn’t be here, girl. I can’t do the things I need to with you around.”

“You’re lying. Your heart wants me here and I can help you. You know that.”

“Mal and your brother won’t ever rest until they’ve found you.”

She laughed quietly, sadly. “Simon’s lost me before. He’ll get tired of giving up things he wants for me. It’s just a matter of time.”

Shaking my head, I said, “Now you’re lying and you know it. That boy loves you and would give up everything a million times over to make sure you’re okay.”

“But I am okay.”

I took a deep breath in. I would have to figure something out. I was incredibly happy to have her with me. “Tomorrow, once the storm’s past, we’re heading for the hub. We’ll be able to catch a ride off this planet and get some work going. Before we do, we’ll stop at the companion house and send a wave, lettin’ ‘em know you’re safe.” I looked down and found her looking up at me with some kind of strange look on her face. “What?” I asked. She shook her head, her smile widening. I realized that she was lookin’ at me with love and suddenly I couldn’t speak. Bending my neck, I brought my face close to hers and pressed my lips against hers. She responded, her lips moving against mine.

It was easy to tell that she was clearly inexperienced at this sort of stuff, but that just made me want to kiss her more. She was new to everything and that was crazy excitin’ to me. She moved to sit atop of me, her legs straddlin’ mine. Her hands clutched at my shoulders as she deepened the kiss. I wondered for a moment if she could read minds during all this. Yes, was the reply I received. Instinctively, my hands moved to her hips, gripping them tight and enjoying the feel of her suddenly warm body moving subtly over very sensitive parts of my body.

Nearly painfully, I pulled back from her, my hands moving from her hips to her back, pulling her to me, my face burying in her hair. “What are you doing to me, girl?”

We fell asleep just like that, her on top of me as I lay back against a bay of straw. In the morning, I loaded up the horse, made sure we had enough water to get us to the hub, and then climbed up on the horse. Extending my hand, I helped River climb up behind me. I loved that once atop the horse, her arms wrapped around my waist. “She says that she doesn’t like being loaded so heavy,” River whispered into my ear. Took me just a moment to realize that she was talking about the horse. “But as long as we don’t push her to hard, she’ll carry us.”

Chuckling, I gently gave the filly a little nudge with my feet to get her going. “You just tell her that we appreciate the ride.”

We made it about fifty miles before River said the horse needed a rest. It was actually perfect timin’ since there was a small stream and some beautiful shade trees. Making a small camp and sitting down against a rock, I watched River splash around the brook with the horse. They seem to be playing together. Ai ya, she was an amazing creature. To think there was a time that I looked upon her as a way to make some cash.

She smiled at me as she exited the water, the hem of her dress a deeper blue than the rest. “We could build a house right over there,” she said, pointing to a small clearing. “And raise chickens and sheep and grow eggplants.” I laughed at her as she sat down next to me. “And we could work the land together and survive just fine. Never have to do another dishonest thing in our lives.” She paused, looked down at her lap, then back up at me. “You know, on some planets the marrying age is fourteen.”

I raised my eyebrows. “That’s good to know,” I said flippantly, giving her a sly smile.

“I’m eighteen now.”

“I ain’t the marrying type, River.”

She smiled back at me. “You’re lying. You are. You’re hiding.”

I thought about it for a while. A house and some land, some horses and dogs sounded mighty appealing. I’d been on the go for so long. Havin’ my legs on solid ground for more than a few days at a time would be something else. Of course, no money could be made in that.

“Wouldn’t need money,” River answered my thought. “We would have enough to live and sustain ourselves. We wouldn’t need anyone else for anything.”

We stayed there the rest of the night. I was honestly surprised that we’d gotten this far without Mal or Zoe findin’ us. Typically they were pretty good trackers. About fifteen miles out from the hub we found the companion house. I was able to arrange a meeting with the house leader, a stunning woman named Kai. Once River and I were seated on a very ang gui lookin’ sofa, she sat down in a chair opposite us. “So you are friends of Inara Serra?”

I smiled, trying to put this lady at ease. “Yes. She rents a shuttle on a ship called Serenity.”

“You don’t look like the type of man she would accept as a client.”

I sighed heavily and noticed that River tried not to laugh. I knew I wasn’t classy enough for the likes of Inara. “I wasn’t her client. I was crew on that ship. I just need to send her a wave. I’ve got coin, so it’s not like you’d do this favor for free or nothing.” River stood up and moved to look at the drawings on the wall.

“About fifteen miles west there is a hub that will have multiple places to send waves. Why stop here?”

“’Cause you can link directly to Inara, not Serenity.” I glanced at River for just a moment before drawing my eyes back to Kai, whispering just slightly. “And since we’re here I thought maybe your girls could, you know, do something special for this one here. Maybe a bath and fix her hair up?”

After a little convincing and showing of money, Kai agreed and two very beautiful women took River upstairs. Kai set up the cortex and stood in front of it, ringing Serenity. I stood out of the way. Fan answered, but Kai very quickly asked to be transferred to Inara. “Miss Serra,” she said in greeting.

“Kai, it’s been too long,” Inara said, coming into view. “How did you know I was on Eirene?”

“A friend of yours has stopped by and wishes to speak with you. I shall put him on.” She motioned for me to step up, and I did.

“Hey, ‘Nara.”

Her eyes got large and she looked both ways as if looking to see if she were alone. “Jayne! Where’s River. If you know, you must tell me. Simon, Mal, Kaylee, Zoe, we’re all very concerned for…”

“Yeah, she’s here and she’s fine. ‘Cept she won’t go back to the ship.”

Inara shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“I was just sendin’ you this wave so you could tell everyone that she’s alright. She ain’t hurt or nothing.”

“Jayne,” she said in a very stern voice. “Return her to the ship.”

I didn’t quite care for the way Inara was talking to me in that tone. “I didn’t take her from the ship, Inara. She left on her own. I didn’t even ask her to.”

“I wish to talk to her.”

I looked to Kai, who nodded and moved upstairs to fetch River. “She’ll be down in a minute. Don’t go judging me, Inara. I ain’t done anything wrong. That girl followed me and I tried to get her to go back.”

“Jayne, you know that Simon’s the only one that can help her.”

“Really?” I asked loudly. “’Cause he’s done such a bang up job so far with all the tests and injections. Yeah, she’s as normal as can be.”

“Now who’s judging?”

“Jayne?” I heard River call. Turning, I saw her, her blue dress clean and pressed, all the dirt off her face, her hair up in one of Inara’s fancy dos. She looked amazing.

“Inara wants to talk to you.”

River smiled widely and stepped in front of the screen. “Hello Inara. How are you…”

“River, you need to come back now, bao bei.”

“Oh,” was all River said, her smile fading. “Well, you can tell Simon that I’m fine. I don’t need his help anymore. He can go back to his life now.”

“River, I…”

“Sorry, Inara, it’s time we get going,” I interrupted, knowing that any longer and the Captain would be around to swoop her up.

“Inara,” River started, looking very strong. “This is my choice and I’m allowed to make it.” Without anything further, she turned and began to leave.

With a small smile, I turned away from the cortex and followed after her. We’d have to be quick to get to a ship before Serenity found us. I had hoped that they were still parked in the same location I had left them at, but it just dawned on me that perhaps they’d moved to the hub, which would make it an interesting time.

River jumped onto the horse once we were outside. I flipped a few coins to Kai who had followed us out before climbing onto the horse behind River. We rode off, in the direction of the hub. I started thinking about Mal being there and having to be very careful not to be seen. And then I started thinking of River still being a fugitive and all. No ship that we were going to get on would keep that little secret when there was so much reward money on the line.

“I stole a head dress.” I turned around to look at River and she repeated herself. “I figured I shouldn’t be seen.”

“Damn, you are a genius, ain’t ya?” I smiled quickly, and then turned back towards the road.

By the time we got to the hub, she had put on the scarf. Such a shame to have to disguise her like that. She was too darn pretty for face coverings. “Keep a look out for Serenity and…”

“…her crew. They’re here, but they won’t find us.” I hopped down off the horse, helped River do the same and then grabbed the reins to lead the filly through the crowd. “She’s called Swift Breeze.”

“Huh?”

“The horse. Just so you know, she has a name. It’s Swift Breeze.” I shook my head. I didn’t care what its name was; I was busy trying to avoid being seen by the wrong people and trying to figure out which boat we should buy passage on. “We should return to Hathor.”

“Is there a ship goin’ there?” I looked down at her and she smiled, her finger pointing to a ship at the end of the row.

“It’s a Falcon class. Taking passengers for Hathor. Even have room for Swift Breeze.”

Taking her hand, I smiled, picking up the pace, my head lowered as I barreled through the crowd. We could be safely on board in moments. To my right, I saw the Firefly class ship Serenity. Keeping my head down, I pulled the horse and the girl along behind me as fast as I could. I swear there was even a moment when I heard Zoe’s voice behind the horse. Thankfully, I didn’t see her, or anyone else.

Coming up on the Falcon, I raised my head. The captain stood outside, looking like a used ship salesman. “Going to Hathor? My ship’s the best of…”

“Yeah,” I said gruffly, cutting him off. “How much for me, the girl and the horse?”

The man sized me, told me the price and looked surprised when I shoved the coin into his hands. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were on board, some tiny little man with a six-shooter on his hip showin’ us to our room. Ai ya, these passenger dorms were about double the size of Serenity’s. I wondered how big the crew quarters were.

“Swift Breeze will be lonely down there,” River said as she set her bag on the bed.

“Lonely but safe. Hathor isn’t far from here and soon we’ll be off the ship and on the ground again.” I dropped my weapons crate and my bags on the floor, moving to her quickly. It was impulsive, but I needed to be close to her in that moment. Quickly, I pulled the scarf away from her face and felt a smile form on mine once I saw her china doll skin. “You can still go back to Serenity and your brother.”

Her smile faltered. That hadn’t been my intention. Bending my back and neck, I pressed my lips to hers, allowing my tongue to slip easily between her softness. Suddenly the door opened, “We’re taking…oh, sorry.”

I pulled back from River as she recovered quickly, pulling the scarf over her face again. “Yeah, I’ve paid for this cabin. Next time, you’ll knock or we’ll have to have some unpleasant words pass between us.”

It was just a moment after the man left that the ship took off. I flopped down on the bed, feeling extremely tired. This wasn’t how I imagined it’d be after leaving Serenity. For one thing, I had River with me. I had prepared myself for not seeing her again and here she was, sharing a room with me. Opening my eyes, I watched her sit down in the small chair in the corner, her fingers fiddlin’ with the hem of her blue dress as the scarf fell from her face. “What ya thinkin’?”

She smiled at me and shook her head. “Simon’s sad.”

“I imagine he is.” Sitting up on my elbows, I raised my eyebrow. “Are you?”

Again, her smile faded just a little and she shrugged. “New adventures in an old life. Hathor is a place of music and I’ll get to dance there.” She stood up and moved to the bed, sitting down next to me. I sat up completely, letting my hand move to her face while the other moved to her palm.

The now familiar swirl of images swarmed over me and I found myself settled in the Tam’s house, watching who I knew to be the young River laying on the floor being bandaged by her brother. “Listen, private, you have to be careful. Those Independent troops will use any means necessary to win.”

“Yes doctor.”

“Lieutenant.”

She smiled. “Lieutenant doctor.”

Her brother sighed. “River.”

“What?”

“Quit being a dummy.”

River sat up. “I’m the dummy? Here I thought you were the one accepting a Lieutenant’s pay when you’re the best trained field surgeon in the ‘Verse.” He laughed. “Simon?” she asked, her voice very small. “You won’t grow up and join the war, will you?”

He seemed to think about it for a moment. “Maybe. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but I suppose if the Alliance needed a brilliant doctor on staff, I would go.”

“But what if you died?”

“Then my much more brilliant doctor of a sister will have to come and save me, fix me up like…”

“I’m not going to be a doctor, Simon. I’m going to be a dancer.”

“Dang Ran, because father’s just going to let…”

“Daddy doesn’t care what I do. He only cares what you do.” I saw her brother put his hand on her shoulder and then the image was taken from me. I found myself back on my home planet, in the small dirty little house I grew up in. I looked to my right and saw River standing next to me. I nearly told her to take us out of this memory since I hadn’t agreed to coming here, but it felt oddly right to be in my memory for a change.

“Don’t worry, Sarah,” I heard myself say. I saw my younger self pass before me, a bowl of water in my hands, kneeling down beside Sarah’s bed. It was too small for her. I remembered that she’d grown so much so quickly, there hadn’t been enough time to build her a new one.

“Jayne,” she managed to breathe, her hands grasping out and pulling me closer.

I watched as I saw myself sink down to her bed, lifting a towel out of the dish of water and wiping her face with it. She has a fever, River said to me.

Yeah. I couldn’t get it to come down. My ma was out cleaning houses and I had to stay in with her. Matty was out cleanin’ the barn.

“I couldn’t find the stuff Gramma told me about, Sarah.” I sounded so defeated. “But don’t worry. She’ll come back. I bet Mom’s sent her a wave by now.”

Sarah shook her head. “Mama don’t have no money for waves.”

“Those gorram rich folks have cortex’s in every room, she prolly just used one of them.”

Sarah looked at the younger me, rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Besides, he won’t let her come back. I’m going to die in this bed, Jayne.”

“Shut up. Don’t be stupid, Sarah. You’re not even that sick.” I was lying to her, River. She died a couple days after this.

“Don’t you be stupid, Jayne. I know you’re my big brother and all, but I’m smarter than you.” I watched my younger self smile and I felt myself smile too. “I’m gone. You know it, I know it. Mom knows it too.” She paused for a moment. “Quit being hard on yourself. It wasn’t your fault, you know. You can’t stop everything bad that happens. You can’t stop him.”

“You watch, Sarah. I’ll stop him. I’ll kill him.”

Sarah laughed a little bit. “You’re not a killer, Jayne. You’re a healer. You just have to get off this stinkin’ planet and find Gramma. She’ll teach you.”

Setting down the bowl, the younger version of me said, “You need to rest, Sarah. Chow’s coming, once Matt’s done with that yu ben barn.”

Images swirled around me again and I was back in the passenger dorm. “You’re a good brother, like Simon,” She said to me before I even had my bearings back.

I shook my head. “Not like him. He loves you more than himself, River.” I looked at her with a smile. “I don’t love anyone more than I love myself.”

“Liar.”

I laughed, bringing her close to me and laying down with her. It would be a few weeks until we reached Hathor. In order to keep her a secret, we’d be spending nearly all our time in our room, which would be rather suspicious on our part, but I would just pummel anyone who asked too many questions.

That night at dinner, I grabbed two plates from the galley and brought them back to the room. “I will not eat that!” she damn near yelled.

“River, it’s all we got.” I had no idea what had her so upset.

“It’s not food, it’s death! Rotting, decaying flesh. It hurt when it died. It cried for its mother.”

“For Christ’s sake! You have to eat.” I saw her set her jaw to the side and I knew I wouldn’t win the battle. “Fine. More for me, ‘cause I’m a fan of rottin’ flesh.”

“Don’t eat it, Jayne Cobb. What you eat, you become.” She flicked her hand out and knocked the plates from my hands.

I shook my head at her, trying to hold down my anger. “So what? You ate some crazy fruit?” She just looked at me. “Ain’t like there’s tofu on this ship, girl.” I bent down to salvage the protein splattered on the floor. “I ain’t becomin’ no vegetarian. And I ain’t starvin’ neither.” She just stared at me. “It’s a while until Hathor. Once we set down there, you’ll have all the fruits and vegetables your little stomach can handle. But until then, this is what we have.”

After three days of no food, River came back from a sneaky visit to the filly. Her skirt was filled with horse feed. I watched with wonder as she ate the oats and barely, chewing it with such daintiness that I wouldn’t have thought it was meant for a horse. There’s enough for you too, Jayne Cobb.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Naw, girl, that’s okay. Enjoy that all on your own.”

Thankfully the trip to Hathor went quickly. The day we were to land, however, it seemed destined that I would either be killed or kill someone. River, wearing her little head dress, was down brushing the horse while I moved our items from the room to the cargo bay, preparing to jump off this ship and never look back. It wasn’t a bad ship, the room was fine, but it was just strange. Never been a passenger instead of crew before. There were secrets on this boat, secrets that I wasn’t in on.

But there River was, mindin’ her own business, grooming that horse when one of the crew slid up next to her. I hadn’t been aware of him until I heard her start talking loud. She’d been talking all sweet and quiet like to that gorram horse, so her raised voice startled me. Lookin’ over, I dropped my bag and nearly leaped over to where the filly was tied.

That little gnat had her up against the wall, his hand touching her face. Her scarf had fallen and he was breathin’ all over her. That sonofabitch! I grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him away, saw that she was shaking, and then tossed him across the bay. Once I saw that she hadn’t been physically hurt, I was on him in a second, poundin’ my fist into his face, his torso, his neck, droppin’ elbows anywhere I could find. I lifted him up once more, slamming him back down on the ground.

I heard a click from behind me and I turned around, the man’s shirt still wadded up in my hands. The captain of the ship had his gun aimed at me. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Your gorram man here has no business touching my girl over there. I have rights to kill him and I aim to do so.”

The captain looked over to River, her head lowered. “Not on my ship you won’t.” He looked down at his crewman. My eyes followed. “I think you’ve done enough.” The man’s whole face was purple and his open mouth showed that he was now missing teeth. His arms were wrapped around his mid-section.

Slowly I stood up. “My girl and I are getting off at Hathor. If I see him again, I’ll break every bone in his tiny little body before I make him eat a whole lot of lead.”

The captain lowered his gun. “Understood.” He turned to another member of his crew. “Get him to the infirmary.”

I turned and made my way to River. “You okay?” She nodded. “Girl, don’t you know you’re a superhero? They don’t have to be gorram Reavers for you to fight back.” I took her hand and we sat down on my crate of guns. “You don’t need to be triggered anymore. You proved that already. Don’t ever let someone put their gorram hands on you like that again.”

River was silent until we unloaded the horse from the falcon. “The air dances here!”

I sighed. “Glad to hear it. Now we got to get away from this ship as quick as possible.”

“What will we do here?”

“Guay, I don’t know. You picked the place.”

She smiled at me, slipping her hand in mine as we led the filly away from the landing zone. “We’ll dance.”

“Not much of a dancer,” I said.

“Pretty good at lying, though.” I looked down at her and smiled. “I can see right through you, Jayne Cobb. You’re a dancer inside that big body. I’ll show you how.”

Shaking my head, I laughed and kept walking. She was probably the only one in the ‘verse that could make me danced. I danced, swayed more like it, a few times, but it was the alcohol that made my feet move.

Before leaving the small town, we stopped at a grocer and picked up some fresh fruit and vegetables. They were remarkably cheap. As we walked the countryside, taking in the landscape, I realized why. This planet had really taken to terra forming. Everything was amazingly green and there were plants I’d never seen before. “That’s Hemlock. It’s a lethally poisonous herbaceous plant, Conium maculatum, of the family Umbelliferae. It was used in ancient Greece in executions; a famous example was the philosopher Socrates.”

“Boy, you’re a regular encyclopedia. What can you tell me about the Winchester rifle from the Earth-That-Was?”

She smiled at me. “Known on the Earth-That-Was as the gun that won the west. The original model was a rugged construction and level action mechanism that allowed the rifleman to fire a number of shots before having to reload. The house of the creator’s wife was under construction for 38 years, 24 hours a day, and was thought to be haunted. It was thought that the widow was receiving design instruction from those who were killed from the Winchester rifle.”

“Sounds like a place right up your alley. Anyway, I was just jokin’ about the encyclopedia thing. Although, could make some money with a brain like yours.” I kicked myself before all the words were out of my mouth. “Damn, River, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like…”

“It’s okay,” she said, shaking her head. “I know what you meant. I’m not as fragile as you think.”

“I don’t think you’re fragile at all. That’s your brother’s thinkin’ you’re confusion me with.”

“You think that words hurt me. That I’ll go off the deep end and leave you frightened or dead.”

I stopped walking, and turned her to face me. “I ain’t scared of you. I told you that once.”

“Everyone else is.”

“Everyone else is stupid.” She rolled her eyes. “Hell, girl, if you did go nutso and killed me, better to be killed by someone like you than someone I didn’t know.”

“Why?”

I shrugged. “Come on. I don’t know where we’re going, but we should get there quick. I’m sure you’re just dying to eat that mango we bought back there.” I looked up the road a bit. “It looks like there’s a stream up ahead, buttin’ up against that patch of wood. We can camp there.” I smiled at her. “You need a bath. You smell.”

Her nose turned up. “I have an odor?” I chuckled and smiled as I began to walk. “*You* are telling *me* that I have an odor.”

“Yeah, okay, I can stand to clean up a bit too.” I smiled down at her and she raised her left leg to give my calf a little kick.

We made it to the stream in a half hour’s time and found a rock that was shaded enough for us to sit a while. Grabbing an apple, I sat down and watched River peel the top half of the mango and take a big bite. The golden juices ran over her cheeks, down her hand and her forearm. I took a slice out of my apple and ate it, trying to keep my mind on things other than licking the juice from her arm.

The entire trip from Eirene to Hathor, I kept my usual dirty mind clean, even though she slept right next to me for near two weeks. But ai ya, that juice winding its way down her thin arm was forcin’ me to think about exactly what mango juice and River skin would taste like on my tongue. Damn, I had to change my thoughts, pronto. This girl was a mind reader and here I was thinking thoughts about how to…

“Want some?”

“Huh?” I said, my voice a little crackly as I looked up from the mango to her eyes. Dear god, they twinkled. She lifted the mango a little. “Oh, no, that’s for you. I got my apple.”

“I bet there’s some mushrooms for us to find over there,” she said, pointing to the woods. “I haven’t had mushrooms in years.”

“We can look for some, I suppose, but we’re going to have to figure out what we’re doing soon.”

She looked at me with a question in her eyes. “About what?”

“Money. Work. Living.” She was supposed to be a genius, how did she think we’d survive without money.

“It doesn’t take money to survive, Jayne Cobb. It takes ingenuity. We can live off the land the way many others have done.”

Throwing my apple core into the tall grass, I was amazed at how simple she thought it all was. “You don’t make no money doing that, girl.”

River,” she stressed. “Why do we need money if we’re living off the land?”

“You just want to live on Hathor for the rest of your life?”

“It’s suitable.” She bit into her mango again.

I chuckled, my eyes following the latest trail of juice down her arm. “Maybe for you, but I can’t stay on this place for long. Gotta line up some work and make some coin.” She frowned at me. “And you really shouldn’t be staying put for very long either and you know it. You’re still a fugitive. They still blast your picture all over the ‘verse from time to time. God knows what those men on the falcon called in after…”

River stood up, placed her half eaten mango on a big rock, and then stretched. “Well, since I have an odor, I suppose I’ll get cleaned up.” I smiled at her teasing. Her fingers moved to the buttons of her shirt and I found myself just watching, holding my breath a bit. A smile came to her face and her eyes got large.

“Oh,” I said when I figured out why she hadn’t undressed yet. I swiveled my body to the right and looked out towards the road. “Sorry,” I said a little softer. Stupid, stupid, Jayne. Of course she wouldn’t want me sittin’ here watchin’ her like she was a gorram… I sighed.

Hearing a splash, I turned around and saw her in the water, swimming like a fish. I wondered for a minute if I was allowed to get in the water with her or if I was supposed to wait until she was done and then do my own bathin’. I watched her duck under the water, then pop back up a few yards away. Was she completely naked in there or was she wearing some under things?

My eyes moved to her pile of clothes. She was definitely naked in that water. Guay, this girl was driving me crazy. I had to be crazy because I’ve never been this gentlemanly in my life. “I have to remind you of your odor, Jayne Cobb,” she hollered at me.

“You don’t want me to wait until you’re out?”

River smiled widely. “The stream’s plenty big enough.”

Taking a deep breath, I stood up and took off my shirt, letting it fall to the ground. My eyes were fixed on her as I pulled off my boots and socks. She turned around just as I ducked my head to look at my cargo pants. As my hands went up to the zipper and button, I looked up through my eyelashes and saw her peeking just a little. I smiled to myself as I got naked. You can look if you want to, girl, I don’t mind. You can finally see those man parts I told you ‘bout.

I looked up as I heard a splash. Maybe I’d embarrassed her. Not like she had much experience in the way of a man’s body. Figured I could educate her a little, but she’d have to decide on that. The water was cool, but not cold and actually felt pretty darn good in light of the heat. I went under the water when I was deep enough, enjoying the coolness as it washed over me. This was something that I never liked about livin’ my life on a ship…no nature. Nothing quite as nice as soakin’ in a river or lake.

“Simon and I used to go swimming everyday in the summer.” I jumped. She’d startled me. I hadn’t known she was that close. “We had this grand pool out back.”

“We had a pond down the road. I used to sneak off at night and float.”

“And looked at the stars.”

I smiled, thinking back on it. “Yeah.” Running my hands over my head, slickin’ back my hair, I let my body relax a little. “Kinda nice bein’ off a ship, ain’t it?”

Even though she smiled, River shrugged. “I liked Serenity. It was home.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, but continued by saying, “but homes move around. Never wanted to live in just one place. I’ve always been looking to move on.”

I looked away but then shot my eyes back to her when her hand reached out under the water and grabbed my wrist. She’d startled me. Damn, she was good at that. “You miss Serenity too. It was your home and you let yourself think about staying on as her crew forever.” Breathing in deeply, I shook my head. Gorram girl. “It’s okay to want something permanent. Most humans long for that.”

“Yeah, well,” I started, my mood sinking, “not much in my life’s been permanent and that’s just fine by me.”

“Liar.”

I pulled out of her hold and moved away a little. Who the hell did she think she was? Good for her for being able to read minds and be all intuitive and such, but that didn’t mean she should use it all the time. Couldn’t a man keep a few feelings secret? She didn’t have to know everything. Who the hell’s business was it if I didn’t want people close to me? Never needed people. I always did just fine on my own, making my own way.

Wading up to the shore, I figured I was clean enough. Not like we had thought to buy any soap or nothing. I ran my hands down over my arms, my chest, and my legs, slicking away the water. Pulling out a small towel I had thought of packing, I dried myself off before grabbing a fresh pair of pants and a clean shirt. When I turned back to the stream, I came face to face with a very wet, very naked River. I couldn’t help my let my eyes roam down over her body. “Why do you hide so much, Jayne?”

My voice stuck in my throat for just a moment before I managed to choke out, “I’m standin’ in plain sight.” I shook my head, forcing my eyes to let go of their fix on her body. “Here,” I said, shoving the small, damp towel at her.

Even though I tried to keep my mind blank as she took the towel, she started talking about exactly what I was thinking. “I was naked the first time you saw me, Jayne, so it isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.”

Shit. What was I supposed to do now? What did she want me to do? If I looked at her dryin’ herself off any longer, the small bit of control I had over myself and my body would slip and I would be on her inside of a minute. While I wanted, very badly, to take that option, I turned my head and let her dress without my lecherous eyes taking in every inch of her. What the hell was I doing with this girl? Obviously I didn’t think of her like a little sister. She was not Sarah. But at the same time I wasn’t treatin’ her like a whore or nothing neither.

“It’s indefinable.”

“Huh?” I asked as I turned my head back around to look at River, now dressed.

“It’s okay not to define things. I’ve learned that. But if you want a definition, I have one. You are experiencing feelings of love. That is, a deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness. Attraction is the force acting mutually between particles of matter, tending to draw them together, and resisting their separation.”

Couldn’t help but smile at that. That was my River, simple and complex all rolled into one fascinating bundle of crazy. In one quick movement, I pulled her towards me and leaned back against a large rock. My legs were to either side of her body as my arms slid around her waist. I could feel her breath on my neck and I swear it made my heart speed up.

Her arms moved under mine, her hands dancing under my shirt against the skin of my lower back. What the hell was I doing with this girl? Did I love her? Did I know how to love anything other than violence and money? Was the fact that I was seriously trying to not take advantage of her, a sign that I loved her? And when did I start thinking of her as my River? Hell, I pretty much looked at everyone I met as a way to further myself.

My thoughts stilled as her hand trailed up the back of my neck, making the hair stand up and my eyes close. “Damn,” I breathed out just as her hand forced my neck to bend, bringing my lips to hers.

The kiss was…delicious, like mangos. It was the sound of the filly’s neigh that broke it off. I turned my head and saw travelers on the road. “We should go. Don’t want to linger none.”

“I thought I could wash my clothes in the stream.”

“We should go.”

Stepping back just slightly, she looked up at me. “They mean us no harm, Jayne. They’re just passing by.”

“Yeah, well the folk not meanin’ no harm are the ones that usually cause the most. We need to go.” We both set out about picking up our things and then quickly disappeared into the woods. We didn’t stop until nightfall.

Still in the cover of the woods, we set up a small camp, making a little fire to cook a few vegetables on. Thankfully, we had some canned beans too. River was in a mood to talk. She’d described everything we’d passed. “This is a lantern bug,” she said as I stirred the beans. She looked nice by firelight. “They belong to the family Fulgoridae. They’re planthoppers. Once they see you, they race backwards by scuttling to the opposite side of the tree trunk. And this is a Silk moth of the family Saturnidae. The male’s antennae are sensitive chemical receptors, picking up pheromone molecules from the females. Oh and hear that? Those are Cicadas. They have two sets of wings with the first wing being longer. The males sing a loud courtship song to female mates.”

Wrapping a sock around the can of beans, I pulled them away from the fire. They were gorram hot! I set them down next to her. “Once they’re cool, eat what you want.” I’ve never offered food to another person first, well, at least not since Matt and Sarah.

“And you get to eat the mushrooms first.” She pointed to a pile of cooked morel mushrooms. She was a natural at findin’ ‘em. I grabbed a couple and popped them in my mouth, smiling at the flavor. It was a rare treat. “What do you think Simon’s doing now?”

That was pretty random. “Uh, I imagine he’s looking for you. Prolly on Eirene asking a bunch of folk a bunch of questions. Or he’s up scanning the frequencies for any information. Or maybe they’re sneakin’ around here somewhere waiting for me to fall asleep so they can steal you back from the big bad man that stole you from them.”

“You didn’t steal me.”

“I don’t reckon they feel that way. I mean, honestly,” I gave her a look, “why would someone like you run away to wander around with the likes of me?”

“Because I’ve chosen you.”

“Chosen me for what?”

She finished chewing her mouthful of beans. “As my confidant.” I thought on that while we ate quietly. It was after dinner when she moved close to me, putting her hand to my cheek. I was getting used to the softness of her hand on my rough cheek. River moved her other hand to press palm to palm with mine, but I pulled back gently.

She was looking at me with a confused expression. I tried to explain. “When we do that, we lose track of the time and I don’t want us to be vulnerable for…”

“Don’t worry, Jayne Cobb. I’ll take care of you.” With that she grabbed my hand and the woods around us disappeared. I was standing in the living room of my parent’s house. I felt very small. Walking down the hallway, I found myself looking into a mirror. I was a little kid again. It was before Matt and Sarah were born. Before I knew it, my feet were propelling me towards the back of the house. I could hear my father scremin’ at my mother and instantly my body filled with dread. I knew where I was going and while my instinct was to turn back, my feet kept going.

I didn’t remember this day, but I knew what would happen. I crept to the door of my parent’s room and peeked through the crack. I wanted to go in there and pull my father off of my mother. When I was that young, I didn’t know what he was doing to her, but later, I would learn. And even now it made my jaw clench and my fists ball up.

I tried to make my body kick the door open, but I was stuck. I was stuck doing the same thing I did on that day. Backing away, I walked quietly to my room, shut the door and cried. Thankfully, the scene changed and I was back on Serenity, watching Mal and Zoe talk.

“As much as I hate to admit it, Captain, we need him,” I heard Zoe say.

“Jayne’s made his choice.” This must have been what happened after I left.

I looked to the right and saw River, her brother, and Kaylee standing, watching the two argue. Kaylee’s eyes were filled with tears as she clutched at the doctor’s arm. For his part, his eyes were narrowed as he tried to hear what was going on. River’s face was neutral. I knew you were leaving. At this point I was formulating my plan for leaving as well.

“But sir!” My attention was brought back to Zoe and Mal.

“Zoe,” Mal said loudly. “He’s a grown man and he has the right to leave.” A little quieter, he said, “Hell, I didn’t want him to leave, but there isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Then I found myself in the infirmary, watching River tear through the doctor’s belongings. She grabbed a few things, but then focused on a notebook. Pulling out a page, she folded it up quickly and shoved it in her bag.

The scene faded and I was back in the woods. She didn’t say anything to me, she just moved to me, placing her head on my chest. I leaned back against the rock and shut my eyes, letting myself enjoy the feel of this girl. My hands wrapped around her, my fingers rubbing the soft cotton of her shirt.

I fell asleep and when I woke up, River and I were in the same position. After a little breakfast, we set out again. About midday, we came to a small village within the woods. I had wanted to lay low, but River had other plans. She heard music and high tailed it over to the church which was hostin’ a wedding. I watched her join in the dancing like she’d known the townfolk’s customs for years.

It was something completely unique to see her dancing with other people. That look she normally wore melted away and her face lit up. I didn’t think I’d ever seen her smile that big. No one seemed to notice or at least, no one seemed to care that we didn’t belong to this village. River was a little upset that I made her leave the party so early, but I just kept feeling like we needed to keep moving.

As we walked through the woods, I held my breath a little when I reached down and grabbed her hand in mine. It was so soft and felt nice against my rough hand. Every once in a while, I brought it up to my face, sniffing it and breathing in the scent of her. The last time, I let my tongue dart out, very, very quickly, against her skin.

“Did you just lick me, Jayne Cobb?”

I felt myself turn red. “Just tastin’ ya,” I answered quickly. “Ya don’t have a problem with that, do ya?”

Her brow creased. “I…don’t think I do,” she said slowly. I was sure no one’d ever tried to taste her hand before, but no one out there was like me. I enjoy experiencing things by way of sensations. Touching and smelling and tasting were big for me, helped me get a sense of things. “Where are we going, Jayne?”

My feet stopped and I looked left and right and behind me. “That way,” I said, pointing with my free hand.

“Why couldn’t we stay in that village back there?”

“They got cortex’s all over this planet, girl. They blast you and your brother’s picture all the time. You want to get pinched? ‘Cause I gotta say, not the funest fun that’s out there, ya know.”

“Can we take a break from walking?”

I looked around again and spotted a clearing up ahead. I nodded to her and started off for the clearing. Once there, she let go of the filly’s reins and sat down, pulling off her big black boots and wiggling her toes. I sat down too, diggin’ out two apples from my pack and tossin’ one to her.

“Back at the Academy,” River started, but her words just trailed off. She didn’t say any more.

After a moment, I asked, “Back at the Academy what?”

She looked at me with this puzzled look. “What?”

“You just said, ‘Back at the Academy.’”

River shook her head. “Oh.” Wiping my forehead, I just let it go. Biting into my apple, I studied her. “She isn’t crazy, you know?”

“She is when she talks about herself as she.”

Lying down in the grass, River cradled her head on her arms. “There’s just confusion some times. I’ve been in the woods before.”

“Only it wasn’t the woods. It was a training room, remember?”

“So many things blend together into one that it’s difficult to extract them. There was the training room, yes, but I feel like…” Again her words trailed off. “Here,” she said, pulling a folded piece of paper out of her pocket. “Don’t say it out loud, just in case.”

I grabbed the paper, unfolded it and read it. “What the hell is this?”

“It’s the safe word for the Echo generation. I took it from Simon’s notebook. It’s what he used back in the Maiden’s Head to get me to sleep.”

I sighed deeply. “What do you want me to do with this?”

“Just in case,” she said.

“You feeling like snappin’ and beatin’ the pi hua out of someone?” She shook her head, keeping her eyes locked on the sky. “Yeah, well, I can’t even pronounce these words, so don’t figure it’ll mean much. Ain’t as smart as that brother of yours.”

“I’m not fixed, Jayne Cobb. And Simon’s not here to give me medicine to control me.”

My jaw clenched. I hated that shit he gave to her anyway. “You don’t need to be controlled. He don’t got the right making you some kinda gorram rag doll all the time.”

River sat up. “Simon does what he thinks is right. He still doesn’t know everything they did to me. He still doesn’t know about the Pax and other chemicals they gave me. Sometimes my head buzzes and I feel the residual chemicals in my brain moving, destroying and corrupting.”

What the hell brought this on? One minute we were fine, walkin’ in the woods, the next, she’s going on about corrupting chemicals and buzzin’ brains. “Sometimes I think there’s someone else in there, inside my head, talking to me.”

“Well don’t listen to it, girl.”

“Not girl, not Echo 12, *River*.”

*River*,” I said, exaggeratin’ her name. “Ready to walk?”

I heard her sigh and watched as she tugged on her boots. “Can’t we just settle for a while?”

I moved to my knees and positioned myself right by her, my eyes fixed on hers. “Hathor might be a place filled with pretty music and dancing and fresh food, but they still got people that’ll turn you in for the price on your head. Not to mention, those gorram zong yin jing from the Falcon. That one saw your face, River-girl, ain’t no tellin’ what they’d do with that information.” Taking her hands in mine, I pulled her up as I stood up myself. “Our best bet is to get as far away as possible. Maybe even find another port and take ourselves to another rock.”

“I cause so much worry and running.”

I tightened my hands on her and steeled my face. “Don’t you go saying that. I’ve been running for a long, long time, girl. And as for worryin’, I’m not worried ‘bout nothing.”

I felt my heart flutter a little faster when I saw that smile spread over River’s face. “You’re such a liar, Jayne Cobb.”

We got movin’ again after that and found a little spot to camp. I liked sleepin’ outside, but I could tell that River didn’t have to do it much. She didn’t complain, but she had a hard time getting’ comfortable on the rocky soil. “Thought they’ve trained you to sleep anywhere.”

She shook her head. “Maybe they did. Still don’t like the thought of bugs crawling all over me like I’m a corpse.”

She didn’t sleep well that night. Every time I got close to fallin’ over the edge of sleep, she would sigh, or snap a twig as she rolled over, or start talkin’ about gibberish. I knew I had to get her to a place where she could sleep soon, so when we came about a little one room cabin the next day, I searched it for signs of occupants.

“They’re gone. Old couple ran out by the wilderness.”

“Well, they sure didn’t take much,” I said as I tossed a cookin’ pan back into the sink. Looking around, I figured they didn’t take anything but clothing. I wondered what it could have been that made them leave like that.

River made a loud noise, much like a little girl on Christmas and I turned to look at her. “They left me a piano!” Very gently, she reached out her hands, the fingers touchin’ the keys lightly. Within a second, her fingers started flying on the keys and fancy music started to sound and bounce around the room. I was sure that I’d heard it before, but prolly just in passin’. It was some of that music that rich folk liked to listen to at their fancy parties.

This girl was absolutely amazing. There wasn’t nothing she couldn’t do, it seemed. The same smile that she wore while dancing was on her face now. I took a seat in a dusty old chair across the room and watched her. It was like her whole body was making that music, like she was dancing and playing the piano at the same time.

It was another ten minutes before she completed the song, her arms flying up abover her head as she spun around. When she stopped, her eyes fixed on me and she bit her lower lip. “How is it,” I started, “that you know how to do everything?”

Her eyes twinkled a little as she smiled wider. “Simon called me a freak of nature. I could always just *do* stuff. I had one lesson of piano before I could play Mozart.”

“Is that what you just played?”

“It’s one of his concertos.” What the hell was a concerto? River moved over to me and sat down very delicately on my lap. My hands immediately and instinctively went to her hips. “A concerto is a piece of music in which one or more solo instruments get to play in front of an orchestra. A concerto can be written for any instrument. A ‘concerto grosso’ is a concerto for two groups of instruments -- a smaller group of soloists alternating with a larger group.”

“Shiny,” I said with a smile, pullin’ her closer to me. I didn’t really need all that information, but since she was so willin’ to give it, I would take it. Sometimes I thought she explained things more for herself than for me or anyone else. “So I reckon that it’ll be darn near impossible to get you away from this house now that there’s piano, huh?” River just nodded. “It’ll suit for now, but we’ll have to leave eventually.”

“Look,” she said. My eyes followed her pointed finger. “An ampliphone. I can teach you to dance now!”

I smiled tightly, pretendin’ that I didn’t find it funny. “I don’t see no discs.”

“No one owns an ampliphone without discs. What would be the point? It’s the ampliphone’s function to interpret information on the discs and convert it into music.”

“I know its function.” I stood up, bringing her up with me. “Well, if we’re stayin’ the night here, we’ll need to tidy up a bit.” I pulled the blanket and sheets off the bed and coughed when all the dust came flyin’ up.

It only took a few hours to make the place bearable. It wasn’t like we’d be living long term here. It seemed like a decent spot to take a few days to rest. We had plenty of food for us and feed for the filly. It would do that horse good to have a day off as well. After two weeks in a cargo hold, several days of near non-stop travel was bound to take its toll. And truth be told, I liked that horse, even if it was called Quick Breeze.

It was strange having table to eat at again. I sat on one side and River on the other. It was almost too easy to forget who we were for a moment. I figured we’d stay on a day or two then push for another port. I knew she liked this planet but it wasn’t the right one for us. She could dance and play music on another rock; didn’t have to be this one.

After dinner, she put a disc on and forced me to dance. She threatened to invade the deepest, darkest places in my mind, so there I was, learnin’ some kind of fancy dance with her in the dirty old cabin in the woods. Luckly, no one but me and here were there to witness it, although she did say that I was decent at it. Prolly said that to be nice. Either way, I actually had fun. I ain’t laughed in a good long while and it was nice to see her do the same.

As the daylight faded and the night sky came out, we sat down in the dimmed one room cabin and watched the horse eat the long grass and clovers around the house. She sat in front of me, in between my legs while I brushed her hair. I used to do it for Sarah. It was nice to feel her by me. “If we lived here, we could take out a few of those trees and get better light for a garden.”

“But we don’t live here,” I said, not wanting to spoil her fun but also not wanting to get back on the topic of settling down. Even out here in the apparent wilderness, there’d be people lookin’ to take advantage. Quickly, she turned around, threw her leg over my lap and placed her hands on my shoulders. I let the brush drop in between our bodies. “Can’t you just pretend? I used to pretend all the time. Sometimes even when I think I’m not, I pretend.”

“You’ve lost me.” I smiled at her. “Not the first time though.”

Her small fists pounded my chest as she laughed. “Just pretend. Just this once. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

“Ole Swift Breeze out there wouldn’t care.”

“Come on, if we did live here…” she baited.

My hands encircled her wrists, stilling the falling fists. “Okay, okay. If we did live here, we could plant eggplant, after we learned how to eat ‘em. And I would build a barn for the filly. And I would build on to this little place so we had more house, with the wood we cut down to make light for our garden. And then I’d make furniture to haul into the town to sell.”

“I thought you were a welder.”

“I can do carpentry. My father’s a welder, it was pretty much expected for me to learn it, so I did, but I enjoyed making things outta wood.”

“I’ve never seen you do that. I’ve seen you weld.”

“Welding’s practical on a ship.”

“What’s the last thing you made out of wood?”

I frowned as I sighed. “Matty’s bed. Before I left, I realized how tall he’d gotten, so I made him a bed that he’d be able to grow into. Not much of a need to use my carpentry skills after that. Well, I did…” I paused, not really wanting to talk about it anymore. She punched me in the chest, I guess tellin’ me to go on. “I made Kaylee a jewlry box for her birthday one time. It was stupid.”

“You were sweet on her.” I swear I went red in the face. “It’s okay. She has a way about her. Not many people as kind as her in the world.”

I nodded. “That’s true.”

“Sometimes I wonder how she can be friends with the rest of us.”

“Ain’t got no choice.”

“Yes she does.” River drew in a deep breath, her face showing saddness. “She’s who I would be, you know, if I hadn’t been selected for the special program.”

“Kaylee just has a way of making everything seem okay.” I shrugged. “She’s fairly naïve though.”

River’s smile returned. “That’s why I like her. She’s very positive about everything. And even when there’s danger about, she’s still very kind and cheerful. Was she sweet on you too?”

My eyebrows shot up. “Me? Nah. I’m a brute.” River rolled her eyes and I just had to smile. “I don’t know. She’s a grown woman, so I’m sure she’d thought about she and I, well, you know, but I don’t know that she coulda had feelings for me.” I paused, then added, “Especially once your brother came aboard.” River just looked at me, I guessed expecting me to go on. “It’s okay. Kaylee needs someone more intelligent than me. She’s a genius when it comes to machines. I’m not a genius in anything.”

“That’s not true, Jayne Cobb! You’re intuitive when it comes to danger. Tactically, you’re very sharp and you’re a great shot. I’ve seen you. You don’t think you are, but you’re a better marksman than Zoe and the captain. You’re also a genius when it comes to saying all the things that no one else wants to say.”

It was my turn to roll my eyes at her. “That ain’t genius, River. That’s just not knowin’ all the social graces that everyone else on the ship does.” A thought entered my head and my heart started beatin’ fast. Even though she could prolly tell what I was thinkin’, I said it anyway. “I’m kinda sweet on you now.”

She gave me that wild River smile and she pressed against me. “I know,” she whispered as she tossed the brush from between us.

I licked my lips, then moved in to kiss her. River’s arms moved around my shoulders, which brought her closer to me. I couldn’t keep my hands from roaming all over her body, making her squirm, which made it hard for me not to, well, get excited.

It became apparent that she didn’t mind my excitement. She didn’t stop her movements, forcing me to groan at the pressure. I realized where this would lead and wasn’t quite sure if I needed to stop or not. No, don’t stop, she said in my mind. Tightening my arms around her, I stood up, bringing her with me and stepped over to the bed. Very, very gently, I laid her down and covered her with my body, being careful not to crush her small and delicate frame under my big and heavy body.

By the time the sun came up the next morning, she was sleeping cradled in my arms, half her body laying on top of mine. It was the best gorram sex I’d ever had. It was like she knew exactly what I wanted, what I needed. Hell, she prolly did being a mind reader and all. I’d been worried that I would hurt her in some way or bring back some of the memories of her past, but it didn’t seem to go like that.

My heart felt full and my body felt satisfied. This musta been love ‘cause I ain’t never felt anything like it before. I was up before she woke, fixin’ breakfast in the small pot bellied stove. She made a noise and I turned to look at her. River was stretchin’, her hair all in disarray. I felt soft like butter inside and I wasn’t quite certain that was a good thing, but when she noticed me smilin’ at her, I decided I didn’t care if it was bad or good; that it was okay for me to care for someone and enjoy the company of this girl, even if she was a little fa feng.

With a few long strides, I was next to her in a minute, my arms sliding easily around her and drawing her close to me. It’d been a while since I’d been close, really close, to someone. There were the ladies, if you could call them that, that I would visit on whatever random planet we were on, but there was no spiritual closeness, if you will. And then there was Kaylee, who at times I felt emotionally connected to, but there was no physicality there. Kaylee would often confide things to me, you know, before Dr. Prissy Pants joined our crew. But River, with her I felt joined, connected, almost like one. It was scary and I ain’t scared of much, ‘cept maybe Reavers.

With a kiss, I drew her outta bed and sat her down at the table. Breakfast was fine up until the point when she cocked her head to the side and started talkin’ some non-sense with that far away look in her eyes. “The princess has fallen down and knight cannot save her. The fox is close and will bare its nasty teeth.”

“What the xiao bian you talkin’ about girl?”

“She doesn’t know,” she answered in almost a sob. It wasn’t good that she was talkin’ about herself as she. It was never good when that happened. “It’s not safe. The trees will crumble and the leaves will cover us until no one can see.”

Steppin’ around the table, I took a hold of her shoulders and shook her just a little. “Gorramit, girl, what the hell’s goin’ on. What’re ya talkin’ about?” Her eyes flicked out the windows as small tears leaked out. A horrible thought crossed my mind. “Is it…was it last night?” She didn’t speak. I let go of her as if she were burnin’ my hands. “Mu hūn wài xìng jiē chù, I gorram knew I shouldn’ta touch ya. Now you’re…”

Before I could react, River stood up and took my face into her hands. “The fox is coming and it won’t be stopped. Our farm is overrun and the chickens are slaughtered. No more voices ringing and echoing in the night.” She looked me square in the eye for a moment, swallowed, then said in a calm voice, “We need to leave, Jayne.”

The clarity in her voice made all thoughts, good or bad, about last night slip from my mind. With her hand in mine, I started packing up the few things that belonged to us. Within a matter of minutes we were fully dressed, sitting on the fully loaded down filly. We took off quickly with me wondering what exactly was going on. All I could do was trust in the crazy words of an emotionally traumatized girl.

It was hard to make progress on horseback in the woods, but we found a path after an hour that allowed us to speed up. With the wind blowin’ it was hard to hear, but River was constantly mumbling non-sense. I had Vera strapped to my chest, just in case big guns were needed. Hell, I didn’t even know what was going on.

We pushed the horse and ourselves to the limit, riding all day with a mere watering break. At nightfall, we stopped near an outcropping of sandy rocks. It looked like we’d be riding into a desert soon. We weren’t near equipped for a journey like that. We’d have to see about turning another direction the next day.

I tried to set up a basic camp, feed and water the filly, and work on some chow for us, all while keeping an eye on the pacing and near frantic River. I didn’t understand what the hell was going on. I couldn’t even keep up with the stream of you jing shen bing fei hua that was comin’ outta that girl’s mouth. Now, I ain’t scared of much, but the look in her eyes, the crazy spewing words, and the way she tugged at her hair and scratched at her skin was making me a tad unsettled. Once again, she’d managed to damage my calm.

After finishing up, I walked over to her, placing my hands on her shoulders. I had intended to jolt her out of her state and get her to sit down and talk to me, but I musta scared her because instead of turning towards me, her arms moved up and knocked mine away. “Ye su jui du! It’s me,” I yelled. I’d been in this position with her before and I knew from the last time that she could take me out before I even had the chance to defend myself.

River backed up, shaking her head. When she looked up at me, I could tell she knew it was me. “River, you need to tell me what’s goin’ on.”

With tears in her eyes, she moved to sit by the food I’d laid out, although she did not eat. “I don’t know,” she said. “I can just feel it though.”

Okay, at least it was a start. “Feel what?”

“That we’re being hunted.”

Now, I figured that’s why we left that little cabin so quickly, but hearin’ her say that, usin’ those words, my stomach jumped a little. “By who?”

“The tricky fox,” was her reply. She stood up again. “We shouldn’t be resting. Many miles to go before the pick up.” Her eyes seemed to be searching the dimming landscape.

“We can’t go gallopin’ into the desert, River. We don’t have enough water or cover for that kinda trek. We’ll have to find another…”

“No time.” Almost like she was dancing, she moved over to my weapons crate and pulled out one of my favorite handguns.

End Part 3 (P.S. Thanks for all the kind words guys!)

COMMENTS

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 2:06 AM

JANE0904


This is really good, and works well from Jayne's POV. But someone is following them, and River calls him/her the 'tricky fox' ... someone we know, perhaps? And are you honestly intending for Jayne and River never to go back to Serenity? As Mal always said, safest place is keeping moving, and they never stop moving.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 4:32 AM

GILOVE2DANCE


Whew...I read that so damn fast....wow...may I say that I am speechless and I have no words to describe how your writing is so phenomenal? And how hot the kiss scenes are even though you hardly describe anything cause yuo don't need too?

Please please update soon as my very existence depends on it!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 5:51 PM

ROMANCEGURU


Eeeeeeeh! Suspense! Again, love your character voices and Jayne and River’s interactions. My most favorite part was River’s playing house, fanaticizing about the what ifs and how she finally gets Jayne to play along. So Beautiful.

The paralleled flashbacks were also great. I love when Sarah says, “You’re not a killer, Jayne. You’re a healer.” That Jayne had it in him to do good things at a young age, but because of circumstance, he took a more vengeful path. Very believable.

I’m curious to know how many more chapters we get to read…


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