Everything was safe. River knew that. She knew that Serenity was safe. Hands of blue were gone forever now. Everyone knew the secret of the reavers now. It was all safe and peaceful like snowflakes falling into a crowded forest. Yet, she never quite felt safe. It felt like the wolves were always lurking beneath the cold white snow. Sometimes with the medicine Simon gave her, the world almost made sense. It wasn’t all crashing and running and flying sky every moment in her mind. She had moments of lucidity. There were longer and longer periods when she felt like a human girl again. But at night, when Simon was with Kaylee and River was alone in her room, the dreams were difficult. The thoughts she had while trying to fall asleep were even worse. She knew there were ways that she could sleep better but they were never going to happen.
By day she watched him. It hurt to be near him almost as much as it helped. Jayne Cobb was never afraid. He was often irritated or angry or lustful, but not afraid. Even the Captain had memories of fear from his time in the war. He and Zoe both had those memories and sometimes they would have moments of panic that they hid from the others. Jayne didn’t have those. His mind wasn’t the confusing mess of emotions that she felt swirling around in everyone else. He was steady, solid, unwavering. That’s why she liked to be near him. His lack of emotions brought her stability. That and because she liked to watch him. She was a woman now with a woman’s needs. She liked to watch him lift weights or polish his guns. The sight stirred up feelings in her that made her want womanly things. But it hurt because she knew that Jayne only thought of her as Simon’s crazy sister. He barely noticed her except to be wary and he had no idea how much she needed him.
She was never going to tell him. She might be crazy but she wasn’t that crazy. He would most likely be even more wary of her if he had any idea of the lustful way she had thought of him. He probably wouldn’t believe that his mind helped to stabilize hers. So she kept it all to herself. Not even Simon knew that it wasn’t entirely his medicine that was helping her. Most days she tried to keep Jayne within proximity but not too close. He noticed that she followed him around like a lost puppy. It irritated him because he was concerned that she might go nuts and try to cut him again but he wasn’t afraid of her. Jayne didn’t really do fear like most people. Hence the reason she needed to be near him in the first place.
Then late one morning, a few weeks after Wash’s death, River had been following him at a distance down one of the corridors in Serenity and Jayne turned to her. He was actually a little angry.
“Can you stop following me all over the gorram ship for once?” He said.
“No,” She almost squeaked the word. He was serious. He was intent on ending her cure, on making her keep her distance.
“Why the hell not?” He asked, figuring that if she weren’t afraid of reavers he probably couldn’t scare her away. There had to be a solution to get rid of her.
“Because you have the cure. You keep the wolves under the snow,” She said. She knew she hadn’t used the proper words, the words that would make sense to him. Whatever those words were, she couldn’t find them.
“I don’t know what wolves you’re talkin’ ‘bout and I ain’t got no cure to nothing,” He said, moving away from her. “I suggest you keep your distance. You’re starting to damage my calm.”
River caught his arm before he could leave her. “If I keep my distance, I won’t have any calm,” She told him, feeling tears starting to form in her eyes.
“What are you saying?” Jayne regarded her with pity mixed with confusion.
River struggled to find the words to answer his question. “All the feelings of everyone on this ship muddles my brain. Zoe is so lonely and Inara and Kaylee are tangled up in love and can’t think about anything else… it makes me tired to be near them...Simon is always worried, and even Mal has nightmares about the war...but you...fear doesn’t stay with you. It’s there for a moment and then it’s gone because you have bigger guns and can keep the wolves away…” Her voice was breaking as she tried to tell him this.
“You’re saying that if you gotta feel other people’s feelings, mine are easier?” He asked, surprisingly perceptive.
“Yes,” She nodded, having conveniently left out the fact that not only did his mind help to calm her, but that she wanted more from him than just his mind. He didn’t need to know about that. Not ever.
Jayne sighed and he scratched his head. “If I let you follow me about, you gotta promise me that there won’t be any knives or any violence against my person.”
River nodded. “I promise, I don’t want to hurt you now anyway.”
“Good,” He moved away from her, seemingly having accepted that answer.
For a week River followed him everywhere and not so much at a distance anymore. Simon was too busy with Kaylee and his duties as a doctor to notice how his sister was spending her time. He didn’t know that when they stopped on a moon for a shopping excursion that River went with Jayne to a firing range to play with guns. River didn’t really want him to know anyway. Simon didn’t like Jayne. He didn’t understand how much she needed him. Besides, River was good with a gun. She was so good that she impressed Jayne enough to let her shoot Vera a few times.
At the next stop, most of the crew left the ship for a job, leaving River and Simon all alone on Serenity. Five hours later they returned carrying Jayne. He had been shot three times and was barely conscious. As they carried him in and put him on the medical table, River started to panic.
“Simon, don’t let him die. He can’t die. He can’t…” She began to ramble. “If he dies then the wolves will come back. The wolves will come up out of the peaceful snow and there will be no big guns to stop them… you can’t let him die… you can’t...you can’t…”
“River you need to go,” Simon told her as he tried to set to work on Jayne.
“No! I can’t go out into the snow alone,” She started to cry as Zoe put an arm around her to escort her out of the room. “The storm will cover the foot prints. I won’t know the way back. Simon, don’t let him die!”
Zoe gently pulled her from the room. “It’s gonna be okay honey,” Zoe tried to soothe her. Zoe meant well but she didn’t understand.
“She sure picked a hell of a time to have a meltdown,” Mal said from out in the hallway where they had sat down in chairs to wait for surgery to be over. “Maybe when the doc has stabilized things a bit he can give her some more medicine.”
“I don’t need medicine, I need Jayne to live,” River said, angry that they never understood.
“You mean to tell me you actually care if that ornery bastard lives?” Mal said. His words were a disguise. River knew he wanted Jayne to live too. He just didn’t believe that she did.
“He is nice to me when everyone else is busy. He let me shoot Vera,” River told them with words they would understand.
Zoe looked surprised. “I guess he is nice to you.”
“He keeps the wolves away,” River added.
“I know you like to speak in riddles,” Mal said, “But the rest of us don’t always know the meaning of those riddles. What are these wolves you keep talking about?”
“The big bad wolf, he ate the three pigs and the grandma. The wolves eat everything. They visit our nightmares and they follow us by day… they never never never go away.” River tried to explain but she knew the words were wrong again.
“Okay…” Mal said, not understanding. “How does Jayne help?”
“All the bad things, they come back over and over. Two by two with hands of blue...I see them when I try to sleep, I remember them when I’m alone and everyone is busy. I remember them when when the people around me feel scared…” She tried to explain, she could tell that this time she was making sense to them. “Everyone gets scared and everyone has too many feelings. Too many feelings for one person… like wolves hiding in the snow.”
Zoe shrugged. “She’s right Captain. Jayne has hardly any feelings at all. Probably is easier for someone like her.”
“He does have feelings!” River protested a little forcefully. “He does… it’s just that they are simpler. It helps to keep me steady, grounded.”
When the surgery was over, no one protested at River sitting next to Jayne’s bed in the infirmary waiting for him to wake up. No one protested when she stayed with him for the entire next two days. After Jayne was finally able to walk on his own, Simon released him to finish recovering in his bunk. No one said a word when River went to visit him there. No one except Jayne.
“What the heck you think you’re doin’ here girl?” He asked as she climbed down into his bunk an hour after he had been released from the infirmary.
“Visiting,” She said simply.
“Meaning no offense, but I think I’ve had enough visiting for a little while.” He said, he was really tired and just wanted to sleep. It wasn’t that he needed her gone. She knew that.
“You can sleep. I’ll stay quiet,” She offered.
“And do what? It’s gotta be past 10PM already. You should go to bed,” He told her.
“Okay,” She said agreeable but she didn’t leave. He was laying there shirtless because the shirt irritated the stitches on his shoulder. She couldn’t stop staring. Maybe it was time to find out…if he didn’t like it she could just pretend to be crazy. He would believe that’s all that had happened. River just being crazy again.
She went to his bunk and carefully climbed right over him without touching and lay down on the opposite side of his bed against the wall.
“Hey whatchya…?” Jaybe was too stunned to even finish the question.
“You said it was time to sleep,” River said simply.
“I didn’t mean here,” He said.
“You’re going to sleep here. Why shouldn’t I? I thought you liked sleeping next to women,” She said innocently, laying a hand on his bare belly.
It was then that she felt it. He did feel something for her. He did want her the way she wanted him but he felt guilt about it too. She allowed herself a smile at this small victory.
“I’m still injured...and how old are you? You ought not to be here…” Jayne protested.
“I’m nineteen...besides, being injured hasn’t stopped you before,” She told him, knowing that he’d been shot before and been with a woman not long after.
“River,” He said, removing her hand from off his body. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You need to go on back to your own bunk.”
She pulled her hand away from him and met his eyes. “I do know what I’m talking about and I do know what I want. I know what you want too. You can’t hide from me Jayne Cobb.”
“Still don’t make it right. Your brother and Mal both are likely to kill me if I ever touched you.”
“They don’t own me. I have just as many needs as they do. Don’t send me away...please?” She said. Now that she was this close, the last thing she wanted was to leave.
He didn’t answer her. He was thoroughly confused. He hadn’t even known that he wanted her until just then and now his desire was in direct conflict with his sense of duty. She made the decision easier for him. She leaned close and kissed him. His arms came around her and he was kissing her in return. His hands were on her backside and he pulled her body flush against his. She could feel his hardness pressing against her thigh. She kicked off her boots without ending the kiss and she reached for the button of his pants. He removed them himself. Then she pulled the dress off over head, leaving the both of them in only their underwear.
She liked the way his hands roamed her bare skin. The feeling was overwhelming but in the best possible way. Everything bad was forgotten. No hands of blue anymore. The only thing left in her mind were the hands of Jayne and how it felt when he was touching her. She had known it would be good. She had felt emotions coming from others on the ship when they had sex. But this…? She’d had no idea it would be like this. He was taking his time with her. By the time all their clothes were off she was panting with desire. Then his hand was between her legs and she was filled with sensations that she had known existed by her own hand but had never known could feel like this. He groaned a little when he moved on top of her. Partly from pain and partly from longing. She had a little pain of her own when he pushed his way inside her but she could tell he was being careful and the pain faded quickly, replaced by the ecstasy of fullness.
Jayne kissed her neck, her shoulders, her breasts, her lips, as he continued to move slowly inside her. He was still in pain and the pain was making him slow but it wasn’t enough to dull his desire. River couldn’t stop her little noises of pleasure. She had known so much pain since the hands of blue. Jayne had given her mind peace and now he was was giving her body something so far away from pain that she hadn’t known it existed. She couldn’t think about anything anymore. Science was gone. Religion and all it’s errors were gone. Even Simon was gone. All that was left was this man and the way he moved inside her, the way he touched her. She didn’t want it to ever end. Her body found what it was looking for and with a moan she felt herself pulsate from her center outward. She lay limp as Jayne thrust into her a few more times and then moaned himself, going still.
He started to move off of top of her. She caught his arm. “Stay,” She whispered, still catching her breath. He rolled off anyway but pulled her into an embrace and covered them both with a blanket. She snuggled a little closer to him, feeling utterly at peace.
Jayne was nearly asleep when she spoke into the darkness. “Jayne?”
“Will we do this again sometime?” She asked, a little worried that he might say no.
“Yeah River. Yeah, most like we will.” He said, sleepy, but completely honest in his sleepy state.
“Good,” River said with a contented sigh. “I had hoped so.”
Jayne awoke and found River was still in his bed. She was naked and sleeping cuddled up next to him with her head on his chest and one leg draped across his center. She had been right. He did like sleeping next to a woman but it wasn’t something he did very often. He had never expected to do it with her. That’s not to say he had never noticed how pretty she was or ever thought about having her in his bed. He had thought of it more than a few times since she came on board the ship. But it hadn’t seemed right because she was so young and because she wasn’t always right in the head. Most times he didn’t think about her like that at all.
Then last night she had climbed into his bed and looked at him with those big brown eyes and he forgot all his morals and just gave her what she wanted, what he wanted as well. He watched her sleep, feeling a measure of concern as he did. It wasn’t that he was regretting the previous night. He wasn’t. Not in the least. In fact, he would gladly do it again if she would oblige. He wasn’t even worried about what Mal and Simon would say once they figured out what had happened. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to that conversation but River was an adult and they’d just have to get over it. No, he was more concerned about how much she seemed to need him.
He had realized a week ago that River liked hanging around him because he wasn’t all that emotional. She was more sane when he let her follow him around than when he kept her distant. She hadn’t used to be like that before she killed all them reavers. It never made any difference if he was near or not before. He wasn’t sure of it was a change in her medication or if it was because her brother paid Kaylee more attention lately and had less time for River. Whatever it was, she needed him to keep her mind from going to mush. And last night when he had been inside her, he had seen glimpses inside her head. Those bastards at that academy had hurt her more than she had ever said. She had known the depths of pain that human body was capable of. Every day she fought to keep out that terror and he had aided her in that fight somehow. However she had not been truly aware until last night of the pleasure that her body could experience. She hadn’t known until he showed her. If she needed him before, she was going to need him even more now. Sure, she could have sex with anyone, but how was she gonna do that without his stupid brain to keep her smart brain stable? He was beginning to see that maybe he had just jumped into a longer term relationship than he had counted on last night.
River murmured a little as she began to wake up next to him. “So warm…”
Jayne reached over and rested his hand on her cheek as she opened her eyes. She propped herself up on her elbow and looked at him with questions in her eyes. “You’re afraid?”
There was no point in denying it. She likely knew exactly what he was thinking. Still he found himself trying to deny it anyway. “I ain’t scared.”
“You are. You’re afraid I’ll be difficult for you, that I’ll ask too much.” She said plainly.
“It ain’t ‘cause I don’t like you.” He protested.
“Ain’t isn’t a real word,” She said. “And you don’t have to worry. I won’t be too clingy. I can fight the wolves myself sometimes. You don’t have to do all the fighting.”
River leaned over him and reached for her discarded dress on the floor. She was completely naked and half on top of him to reach the floor. As she pulled herself back onto the bed she felt the way his body had responded to her and she giggled.
“Not afraid anymore,” She said.
“Guess not,” He said, wanting at the moment only to repeat last night over again.
River knew what he wanted. She raised an eyebrow. “Guess I don’t need this,” She dropped the dress on the floor again and kissed him instead. She knew what to do after that. She knew how to use her hands, how to climb on top of him, how to move. He realized she probably got all that from out of his brain but he didn’t care. This was quickly working out to be one of the best lays he’d ever had. Maybe being with a woman who could read minds had its advantages. Even though he couldn’t read her mind, when the two of them were like this, he had glimpses into her thoughts. It was as if whatever concentration or walls she used to keep people out of her head the rest of the time didn’t work so well while she in this distracted state of mind. At the moment, she was enjoying herself as much as he was. She liked the feeling of his hands caressing her body so he took care to do more of that.
In the end, she collapsed against him breathless and spent. She took care to lay her head on his uninjured shoulder. At that moment, her mind was still unguarded and he knew and felt something that hadn’t been clear until just then. River was in love with him. It wasn’t just that she needed him to keep out the damn wolves. It wasn’t just that she had been hoping he would notice her for a few weeks now. It was actual love. He didn’t understand at all why she would do that. She was nineteen and beautiful and smarter than anyone he had ever met. Of all the people available to her, why would she pick him? Sure, there weren’t a lot of available men on the ship but she could read minds. When they landed in any city it would be a breeze for her to find a willing man. It didn’t make any sense…
River lifted her head and met his eyes, worry in her own. “My thoughts weren’t supposed to get out. You fought the wolves and you took the walls down too…” She said, anxiously reaching for her clothes. She climbed off the bed and dressed in a hurry.
“River wait,” He caught her arm before she could leave and pulled her back to sit on the edge of the bed. “You ain’t gotta run off scared.”
She nodded, “Yes, I do. I am scaring you away. I have to leave before you’re gone.”
“I need a little time to get used to the idea is all, but I ain’t going nowheres,” He told her.
“Maybe you can’t get used to it. Maybe I’ll always be crazy and you won’t want that,” River protested. “I should have thought of that. Sometimes smart brains are the most stupid.”
“I don’t care if you are crazy,” Jayne told her. “Least not anymore. All your talk of wolves and hands of blue is starting to make a lot of sense now that I can see inside your head. It ain’t crazy talk so much as fear talking. Nothing wrong with being scared after someone hurt you the way those folks did. You ain’t any crazier than the rest of us, really.”
For a moment River just gaped at him, a few tears spilling from her eyes. Then without a word she got to her feet and climbed the ladder out of his room.
The whole crew had gathered in Serenity's kitchen. Inara and Kaylee had convinced Zoe to let them try something different with her hair and they had set to work braiding and combing and the like. Simon was cooking. He wanted the crew to eat something civilized for once and decided that it could only happen if he made it himself. Jayne sat at the table, his chair pushed out a space, cleaning his gun, while Mal drank a cup of coffee and River sat on the floor in a corner reading. When River got up to dance around the room no one paid it any attention. After a time River danced right over and stopped next to Jayne’s chair.
“I’m cold,” She told him and she climbed into his lap. The room was on the cool side and River was wearing a sleeveless sundress and no shoes. Jayne set Vera on the table and wrapped his jacket around her the moment she climbed onto his lap. “So warm…” she murmured.
This had everyone’s attention. Simon dropped a raw egg with a crack to the floor and stood gaping at them. The room had gone silent.
It wasn't just that she sat in his lap that had their attention. River did unexpected things all the time. It was Jayne’s reaction to it that threw them off. He didn't seem to be horrified or angry that River had climbed into his lap and hugged him. He didn't tell the gorram crazy girl to get away. It wasn't just a friendly hug either. There was something more intimate about the way she clung to him, wrapped up under his large jacket, one of his arms around her back and the way his other hand rested on her hip.
Finally Mal spoke up. “Someone mind explaining to me if this here sight we’re seeing is real or some sort of drunk hallucination?”
“It’s real Captain,” Zoe spoke up. “It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“River? What are you doing?” Simon found his voice.
“Jayne keeps me warm,” River said simply.
“We can see that,” Mal said. “Question is, why?”
“People get cold…” River began.
“Jayne, you got anything to say about this?” Mal asked. Thus far Jayne had seemed uncomfortable with the entire crew staring at him but he hadn’t said a word and he hadn’t moved.
“No,” Jayne said, a little irritated. “I don’t see why y’all are making such a big deal out of nothing.”
“The reason is, you have my sister.” Simon was a little angry. “I want her back.”
“She ain’t a hostage,” Jayne said. “She can leave anytime she takes the notion.” He said, opening his arms to let her her go. River only responded by clinging to him tighter. “See?”
“River, come here?” Simon said, putting out his hand.
“He isn’t gonna hurt her Simon,” Kaylee protested gently. “Besides, they look kinda sweet.”
“Sweet?” Simon asked, upset. “Sweet? Kaylee, River doesn’t hug people. She wouldn’t just climb into a man’s lap and hug him unless he did something to her!”
“Hey!” Jayne took offense at Simon’s words.
Before Jayne could attempt an argument, Simon reached over and grabbed Vera from off the table. “”Whatever is going on between you and my sister needs to end now, or I’m keeping Vera. I’ll hide this gun somewhere you’ll never find it. Or sell it. Or throw it out the airlock.”
Jayne paled at the choice Simon had given him. He looked both sad and horrified but he didn’t move. And then, angry, he hugged River a little more firmly.
Simon looked stunned.
“Well then,” Mal said. “I think Jayne has made his choice.”
It was then that River moved. She got up from sitting with Jayne and marched across the room to Simon. River grabbed Vera out of her brother’s hands with a fury. “What is wrong with you, Simon?” She all but shouted at him as she turned and gave Vera back to Jayne.
“Me? What’s wrong with you River? This isn’t like you. I didn’t think you even liked Jayne and now you’re...and now...he keeps you warm?”
“Yes,” River said, almost a whisper. “Every night I’m warm now.”
“E- every night?” Simon stammered.
“How long has thing been going on?” Mal spoke up.
“Few weeks,” Jayne said. “It weren’t exactly a secret. Figured you all knew already.”
“No, no I did not know!” Simon said. “If I had known I wouldn’t have let it happen.”
“Why not?” River asked, angry.
“You know why, River,” Simon protested.
“Then say it!” She demanded, her voice breaking. “Say it! Say that you think your sister is too crazy to make her own decisions!”
“River I didn’t...I never…” Simon couldn’t argue with what she knew to be true.
“That’s not why I’m opposed to this. Not really.” Simon sputtered.
“It’s cause he thinks I’m too old and too stupid for you to waste your time with.” Jayne said. “It ain’t even far from the truth.”
“No… it’s not true,” River argued to Simon. “Age doesn’t matter. Intelligence doesn’t matter. Kindness does. Jayne let me follow him around and intrude on his space and his time and even his mind because it helped me to keep the bad memories away,” River explained. “He didn’t have to do that. Sometimes he wished I would go away for a little while but he never said anything about it because he didn’t want me to be alone and scared...Simon, I know you want me to be normal again some day. You want me to be like I used to be and to marry some rich well educated young man. That’s never going to happen, you know why?”
“Why?” Simon asked, emotional.
“Because medicine can never make me whole. It doesn’t erase memories and if it could erase them I would always wonder what was missing. Medicine doesn’t calm me without making me feel drugged up. But if I have someone’s mind to share, someone who isn’t complicated by fear and emotions, someone who can help me keep my thoughts stable, then I can be okay sometimes. A rich well educated man is never going to let me do that. He would have too many thoughts swirling around, too many ambitions, ideas, plans...he wouldn’t want me following him to all his important meetings and his brain would be too busy to share….the kind of man that you want for me could never help me. Jayne can.”
“I never thought being called stupid could be such a compliment ‘afore.” Jayne said, a little taken aback.
“But you aren’t stupid Jayne. You’re uncomplicated. There is a difference,” River told him gently.
“This is what you want?” Simon asked her. “To keep warm at night with Jayne Cobb?”
“Yes,” River said.
“Then I have no reason to stop you.” Simon said, backing off.
“Thank you Simon,” River breathed a sigh of relief. Then she turned and went back to Jayne and sat in his lap again. Once again he wrapped his jacket around her to keep her warm. River sighed contentedly.
“One thing ain’t quite clear to us Jayne,” Mal said as he watched them. “Why exactly did you stop being skittish of River enough to keep her warm, enough to decide that River was more important to you then even Vera?”
“I don’t rightly know,” Jayne shrugged.
“Yes you do,” River said, still snuggled up against him for warmth and clearly for comfort too. “It’s one of the few things you’re afraid to say out loud but I know it’s there, just beneath the surface.”
“Oh it ain’t beneath the surface,” Mal said. “It’s plain as day to all of us now River that Jayne loves you. What ain’t plain is how that came about in the first place.”
“I suppose it happened when I realized she needed me. No one ever needed me. Plenty of people would pay me to do a job, or buy me a drink, but no one ever needed me to help em keep the monsters out of their head ‘afore,” Jayne said.
“Aw…” Kaylee said. “I told you they were sweet.”
Soon after that the women had resumed doing Zoe’s hair, Simon cleaned up the egg on the floor and went back to cooking and Mal was drinking his coffee while Jayne and River just sat there, keeping warm. Mal watched them not quite believing what had just transpired but that was okay. Sometimes the most unexpected things were the happiest ones.