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River has taken to crawling into Jayne's bunk at night and playing with his gun.

Simon wishes that were an euphemism.

He caught them one time, finishing up in the Infirmary early and deciding to check on Jayne’s healing gut wound before turning in for the night. He found Jayne sitting up against the bulkhead, legs stretched out across his bed. River was sitting cross-legged in the circle of his arms, playing with an enormous gun that Simon recognised as Jayne’s favourite.

“River? What are you doing here?”

River looked up at him with big eyes and smiled. “Jayne is letting me visit Vera while he’s hurt,” she explained, and smoothed down the carriage of the gun as if soothing a fussing baby. “She doesn’t like to be left on her own,” she added, as if this made perfect sense.

Behind her, Jayne gave a small shrug. “She came to me,” he said, a trifle defensively. “Said she wanted to visit.” He looked a little puzzled at this, as if no one had ever told him that they wanted to visit him before. “Then she said that Vera had been singing to her.” He reached up and made a circular gesture with a forefinger by his head. “Your sister is touched in the head, Doc. Not entirely sure how Mal trusts her to fly the ship.”

“Guess you’ll have to trust me as well,” River said serenely, and reached down beneath the bed to extract a container of gun oil. “I’m going to oil her up.”

Jayne gave another little shrug, leaning back against the bulkhead. “You know what to do,” he said, and closed his eyes. He had his arms folded against the white bandage circling his abdomen, clearly visible beneath the thin fabric of his t-shirt.

Simon would have yelled, or possibly thrown things, but Jayne was sitting against the bulkhead looking slightly green while River disassembled his pride and joy in front of him and briskly slicked the inner workings with the gun oil. Her movements were quick and efficient and she only jarred Jayne the once, biting her lip as the movement made him grunt and go a little paler.

Really, Simon should have insisted he stayed in the Infirmary until he was fully healed. Kaylee had just shaken her head when he’d sent Jayne to his bunk, and had rolled her eyes when he’d suggested that maybe she check on him. “Jayne has enough visitors,” she’d said, and laughed, as if the idea was the best thing she’d ever heard.

“I could stay,” he offered helplessly, trying to decide what would be best. He was frankly vacillating between insisting that River leave and insisting that he himself stay.

River looked up at him and smiled, Vera already mostly reassembled, and gleaming. “No, you can go, Simon. I’m going to stay with Jayne and Vera this evening.”

Are you sure that’s a good idea, he wanted to ask. Are you sure it’s a good idea for you stay on Jayne’s bunk, oiling up his guns and with Jayne’s medication stacked to one side, like sweets. Are you sure you should be here; River, mei mei, don’t.

(All he could think about was Kaylee’s knowing look. “Jayne has enough visitors.”)

River looked up at him and smiled, her eyes wide and guileless, and Simon slowly nodded.

*

River has taken to crawling into Jayne’s bunk at night and playing with his gun.

Zoe thought about making an issue of it. River was still so painfully young that Zoe felt an odd echo of responsibility for her. Simon was trying to untangle himself from the mess he had made, with River so wrapped up in him that neither could breathe, and had run the other way instead. Mal had simply started treating her like a member of the crew, as if he could forget that she was not, she was not, all she was was a little girl sitting in Wash’s seat. And there was no Book and no Wash to raise an eyebrow at River curled up on Jayne’s bunk, Vera naked and stripped open in her arms, like a newborn.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be here,” Zoe said. She’d come to check on Jayne, make sure he was recovering from his gut wound. The Doc had seen fit to send him to his bunk rather than have him stay in the Infirmary, and she didn’t know if there was a story behind that, but. She’d lost friends already, and had no wish to lose any more, and so here she was, arms folded, glaring at Jayne while he rubbed a hand over his face and frowned. “River, maybe you should go back to your room.”

River looked up from where she’d been singing Vera to sleep. “But I am in my room,” she said, and bent back over the gun.

*

River has taken to crawling into Jayne’s bunk at night and playing with his gun.

Mal really had other things to worry about, but he’d had a worry about Jayne for some time now, and it didn’t look like it would put itself to bed.

“What’s she doing here?” he asked, crowding into Jayne’s room.

Jayne looked down at the girl half-asleep in his lap, the gun cradled securely in her arms, as if it were a gorramn baby. “Is everyone stopping by?” he asked, his face creasing into a dubious look. “I don’t plan on being awake all night to settle your worries, Mal.”

“Oh?” Mal said, and folded his arms. “What did you plan on, then?”

Jayne gave a little shrug, and winced when it pulled on his stitches.

In his arms, River stirred, turning in her sleep to press one hand against Jayne’s wound, murmuring soothing nonsense things you might whisper to a distraught child. Her grip on Vera did not slacken.

Watching her, Mal shivered. “Don’t you touch her,” he said, a little helplessly, unsure whether he was directing his warning at the right person. “Jayne -”

“Sure, Mal,” Jayne said, drowsy. His head was nodding forward, his arms tightening around girl and gun in equal measure. “Sure.”

*

River has taken to crawling into Jayne’s bunk at night.

“Mine,” she says, and traces a finger around the trigger, wrapping her arms around the gun. She has both legs hooked around Jayne’s, curled up in his arms. He is warm and he smells good to her, healthy sweat and the herbal tea he’d drunk earlier. His t-shirt is rucked up around the clean white bandage at his waist, and she can see the faint shadow of his wound beneath it, held together by spider silk. Vera is a welcoming weight in her lap, and she cleans the dirt off the barrel with the delicate touch of a doting mother. “Mine.”

“Yours,” Jayne agrees drowsily, and slips into sleep.

*

fin