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The Moon and Her Star

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When River was first aware of her soulmate in her dreams, she was four. He braided daisies in her hair and he taught her how to dance beneath a swirling sea of stars. They played make-believe and sailed on ships across oceans and through space. Together, they explored deep jungles and devoured entire libraries full of knowledge. It was beautiful.

He was beautiful...

She told Simon her secrets, about her man with a girl’s name who shared her dreams. Simon told her about soulmates, how they were rare and she was blessed to have one. Their parents would not understand. She had a duty to them, to marry a good Core boy with money and standing. 

Go se...

Simon would probably turn purple if he knew some of the things her soulmate had taught her, she certainly blushed. He was wild like the untamed horses that lived on the Earth-That-Was. They lived worlds apart and shared their dreams whenever they could. He would say that time was a bitch. It really was.

When she slept it was dawn for him and the opposite was the same for her. There were times they planned to meet in their shared space. He would tell her all about his large family and the work he did to support them. Sometimes, River was jealous that he had so much family. From his stories, they sounded as if they were full of warmth. Simon was the only other one that cared about her feelings.

A breath, a whisper, a finger on the trigger...

The man called Jayne liked his whores. River was not jealous. Maybe just a little. He was a man and he had his urges. She was a child. The kisses they shared were chaste and nothing passionate. Kisses were her’s.  

Things changed when she went to the Academy. It was now the middle of the day for Jayne when she slept. They rarely got to see one another in their dreams. River learned so much. She filled her days with learning and dance and poetry; she had everything she wanted. It didn't last. There were whispers of dread that made her question her teachers, little voices that steered her down paths that others didn't understand. She knew things that were supposed to be secrets. Sometimes, other children left and never returned. 

It was supposed to be a class about soulmate bonds for those who had them. She was one for six in the class. Lessons were tests of skills that stretched from the bond, of knowledge acquired from their mates. There was sleep deprivation. There were drugs. 

Simon's letter smelled wrong...

She didn’t know how she knew, but River knew that they were reading her mail. She sent coded letters in codes that she knew that he would understand. River forced herself to sleep at odd hours, searching for Jayne. He needed to know that they were hurting them. 

They found out about her soulmate...

River didn’t know when the pain started, she only knew that they didn't want to stop.

Subject CM deceased; self-inflicted; exsanguination.

Subject RS deceased; self-inflicted; overdose.

Subject MR deceased; gunshot wound to the stomach; terminated upon request.

Subject GG deceased; coma; terminated after 1 year upon request.

Subject JL alive; transferred to BLUE Division.

Subject RT alive; transferred to BLUE Division.

The girl remembered Jayne. They strapped her to the table and she forced herself to sleep. She crawled through the dark place and screamed his name. It had been a long time since they had really seen each other. He was taller and broader and had scars. The girl didn’t need to know what she looked like. 

She begged him to stay with her to stay and never leave. The men with their blue hands hurt and cut and tore, but he was starlight and warmth that kept away the cold.

Hehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostayhehastostay

He was off to slay the dragon and the sorcerers but the princess was left in darkness. She didn’t want to remember much after that.

Pick up the pen.

There was so much screaming.

She is aware that the blood is sticky between her fingers. 

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

We need to keep this quiet. If the public were to find out, the aftermath would be catastrophic!

The planets swirl around in a mess of colors. She is dizzy. 

Where is Jayne?

Where is Simon?

Mama? 

Father?

It’s the PAX.

”Most of our best work is done when they’re asleep.”

Reclaim the subject, dispose of the intruder. 

Space is quiet and empty and vast. There is peace and there is chaos.

They wonder if she will kill them when they sleep. She has thought about it. It would be too problematic if she did. 

Simon wants the girl to sleep, wants the girl to be his sister. It’s an impossible task. 

I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...

Cold needles and sleep.  

The dark place is quiet. Jayne has not been here in a long time. River has half forgotten the sound of his voice. 

Daisies and cornflowers in their hair, around their necks, and dances to share. A kiss or two upon the head, my mate you’ll be until we’re dead. 


Jayne didn’t talk much about his private life. He was a merc. He liked guns, whores, and money. He also loved his ma and sisters somethin' fierce. His soulmate was something he never spoke about. No one in the verse needed to know his business and that was the way things were.

River had been that special something that was worth waiting for; like dessert. She was smart and pretty and still wanted him even though he was beneath her and all. Her family gave her all the fancy schoolin' she wanted and she knew more than everyone back home knew combined. River was a girl that your ma would approve of and tell the family secrets to. He had his fill of whores, but Jayne didn’t kiss em' on the mouth. She’d be his first. 

“You’re a boob,” she’d say. Yeah, probably. 

Three years, four months, and twenty-three days; that’s how long she’s been gone. Jayne’s been counting. His dreams have been pretty empty since then. He waits in their garden for her but she doesn’t come ever. Sometimes he gets tired of waiting and goes to clean his guns or lift weights. It keeps his mind off of the bad ideas. 

Jayne whores, he shoots, he kills, he lies, and he cheats. He keeps counting. 

The doc is a stuffy and prissy type of guy. Kaylee’s all aflutter over him, but Jayne can’t understand why. He reminds him of River, all with his manners and properness, crept River is probably smarter. Things were going pretty easy till Dobson called the feds, but Jayne can’t be mad about that, not when he’s barely holding the doc back and River is lying there in a box. 

Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze.

She’s screaming, wailing in pain or in fear, he can’t tell. The doc is outta his arms and is in front of her. He wants to chase after him and pull him away, but he’s there, calling her mei mei and he realizes that this is her Simon.

Simon is holding her while she shakes like a leaf and comforting her. Jayne stands there confused. 

Simon brings River down to the med bay and makes her sleep. Jayne stays a little bit longer just to trace the outline of her face with his eyes. 

Simon tells the story of his sister. Jayne sits and listens until he can’t anymore. 

He says that he’ll be in his bunk but it’s a lie. Jayne creeps down to the med bay where Kaylee is alive and resting and where River is alive and resting. He thinks that breathing is a little hard when he notices the tears. Fucking feelings. 

He goes to interrogate the fed who folds faster than he thought possible. Damn shame too, he wanted an ear. Dobson offers him money, a lot of money, but he doesn’t take it. Soulmates are priceless. 

Things all go tits up with Patience and reavers and the fed getting shot, but they made it out. Jayne watches River from across the room while they celebrate living another day. She doesn’t look at him or even notice his presence, it’s as if he doesn’t exist. 

Ta ma de...


She is a mouse. River waits until Simon is asleep, and she waits until the ship sings across the stars. River tiptoes down the metal halls that whisper melodies that only she can hear. There are secrets and stories the walls know that only she can garner. Jayne... He sleeps lightly, searching for her. She knows and also doesn't know. They took their connection, broke it into little pieces that can't be glued back together, and he is waiting for her. He is still waiting for her.

River crawls into the tiny bed and latches around him. He wakes almost instantly. Jayne's hand finds hers and it's finding purchase after being lost for so long. The bed creaks as he rolls over to face her. Their legs tangle and he breathes in the scent of her hair. It probably smells stale but he just pulls her closer.

"I looked for you," he murmured against her forehead. 

"I know." She closes her eyes, knowing that she doesn't need to dream to be with him anymore.

He's right beside her, like the stars cradling the moon.

Chapter Text

They don't talk about the soulmate thing.

They don’t talk about why they don’t dream together anymore either.

River sticks to her brother's side all of the time, refusing to meet his eyes. He plays wary indifference well, stating how he don't like either of them but will put up with their presence as long as they keep to them. Bunch of ruttin' go se, that's what it is. Every waking moment he wants to just run up to her and spin her around like they used to in their dreams. He wants to ask her all those questions that had been buzzing in his brain in the last month that they'd been on the boat. Jayne knows that it's not the right time, that he should wait for when River feels up to it. Her mental state is all broken and he'd sooner get spaced than make her sad again.

Last few nights, River had crept down to his bunk for a few hours, always leaving so her brother doesn’t notice. Normally, he’d take offense to being someone’s dirty secret, but he supposed that it’s better than gettin’ shot or spaced. A blind idiot could tell how protective the doc was over his little sister. Jayne wasn’t bout to go kicking that hornets’ nest. 

River has her share of nightmares, the doc mentions them even if River doesn’t. It’s another of those things they don’t talk about. Jayne knows that the Acadamy and those dirty hundans messed her up. He’s got all these questions burning up his brain but wo de ma he ta de fengkuang de waisheng dou, he wasn’t gonna make her upset about it. 

Inara has this fancy party that she’s going to. She’s getting paid for it, one of her clients is some trumped up dandy that probably doesn’t appreciate her nothing. A whore is a whore but whores put up with a lot of go se no matter where they work. Ain’t no secret that Mal doesn’t see it that way.

Jayne wonders when the two will just admit their feelings for one another and go at it. Zoe says it’ll be after captain almost dies but Wash bets that it will be when Inara says she wants to leave. Knowing those two, it will probably take both. 

That he knows of (cause he makes it his business to know this kinda shit) neither Mal or Inara are soulmates. Not everybody has one. River once said that less than ten percent of Osiris had em’ and that those that did kept it quiet if they were too different. Money’s more important than the other half of your soul. 

Wash and Zoe are soulmates though. He thinks he’s heard the story a million times thanks to Kaylee; how Zoe only ever knew Wash as “Hoban” and how Wash asked out thirty-six other Zoe's and Zoë's before he gave up and found the right one on accident. Kaylee says it’s romantic but he thinks it’s fucking hilarious. 

“The party is in full swing.”

Jayne turned to see River standing in the middle of his room. Boo was dismantled across the small table in front of him and there were gun oil stains across his shirt. River was wearing this slip of a dress, dark blue down to her knees, and just the kind of thing for dancing.

”I ain’t dressed for no party.”

”That’s okay. She doesn’t need him to pretend, to put on false clothes and act the Prince Charming.” She tiptoes over to him silently. 

“You saying I ain’t your knight in armor?”

River rests her head on his shoulder before poking him gently in the ribs. 

“He is the grumpy dragon.”

Jayne can hear the laughter in her voice. He turns his head a little to look her in the eyes. There’s a big part of him that’s wants to kiss her, but there’s also the part that knows that she’s not ready. She has all these things in her head, wants, fears, and other people’s wants and fears, and Jayne can wait till she’s ready.

”Dance with me.”

He won’t say no to her. 


 

 

Chapter Text

“She is a spider, clever and cunning.”

River’s voice is barely a whisper. They don’t hear her, they don’t even notice her presence among them as they are absorbed in their newest addition. She can taste the woman’s malice beneath her doe eyes and pretty face. Her body is a weapon, forged and honed; done so in ways that her own has not. 

Jayne is jealous, only on the surface. He wants what Captain has; the pretty wife.

The girl is dressed in worn, white cotton and draped in hand-spun lace. Daisies are braided into her hair and they hold hands and kiss and love and...

River can feel the thunderous stampede of hooves across a plane. She can smell the coming storm and warm coffee that’s brewed like thick coal tar. 

Jayne was always a romantic. 

She makes herself scarce. Simon wants it and if the spider discovers their secrets then she will not hesitate to claim her reward. 

The worlds won’t get to leave her lips. 

Silver bells and cockle shells...

”Hey Moonbrain,” Jayne lurks from the shadows. He likes to try to be sneaky. 

“The wife is a snake that spits poison. Don’t believe her lies.”

Jayne looks confused. 

“Whatchya’ mean?”

”An apple is still an apple even if its core is rotten. Cannot decide desires; still assessing.”

There’s blood on her hands and worms between her toes. She tries to stomp on them. 

“Hey! You’ll hurt yourself doin’ that in bare feet,” Jayne says. 

“He doesn’t understand. They will eat her!”

She tries to push him away. They have to die or they will squirm and squish their way into her bed at night.

Six feet under...

Worm food...

Simon is there, needle in hand. Jayne is pinning her arms to her sides. It’s too loud and too bright. 

“The fox is is in the henhouse!”

She kicks Jayne in the shin and steps on Simon’s foot before she wriggles out of their arms and escapes into Serenity’s bosom.


In retrospect, he shoulda seen this coming. 

“We want you to marry us.”

River has this dreamy look on her face. She’s smiling at him and then looks at Shepard Book with wide eyes. 

“Uh Moony, I don’t-“

”is there something you need to tell me Jayne?”

The Shepard’s voice is thick with judgement. 

Jayne winces. 

“Shepard, yer mind is headin’ in directions that it ain’t ought bein’!” 

“Two halves of a whole, daisies in her hair, wearing ma’s good lace; a soulmate.”

”How?” 

How did she know what he’d been thinking all damn day?

“I love you.”

It’s the first time she’s said it since  they found each other again. Sure, notion’s been implied, but it hasn’t been said. 

“What’s going on?”

“Quingwa cao de liuman...” Jayne curses his rotten luck.

“Moony’s got some feng le ideas in her head!”

River kicked him in the shin.

”Yow!”

“Well I was gonna show Saffron to her quarters, did they get squared away?” Mal asks.

“Once upon a time,” Shepard Book looks upon Jayne with not a bit of sympathy.

“I don’t need anything. I’m really just fine-“

”You’re a thief,” River’s voice cuts in. 

“Well ho, lets play nice here. Jayne, why don’t you take Her to see her brother. It might make her thoughts a little less ornery.”

There’s a crinkling sound and they all turn to face Saffron who’s holding out a ration bar and looking like she’s bout to be beaten within an inch of her life. 

“I’m sorry, I didn't know when I was to be fed, and I was afraid...”

Jayne stares at her, wondering why she looks so scared. There are honest to God tears in her eyes but they don’t come with hiccups. He’s caught his brothers and sisters stealin’ ma’s cookies, hell, he’s gotten caught stealin’ ma’s cookies, and the tears from the fear of Radient Cobb armed with a wooden spoon ain’t nothin’ to joke about. Saffron’s face is too the floor now, and she’s cowed and meek as a mouse. 

Mal makes this speech to Saffron about her standing up for herself. Jayne watches her eyes. Yeah, there’s somethin’ there that’s missing. Maybe he’ll bring it up to Mal once they’re outta earshot. River’s been sayin’ weirder stuff ever since Saffron came aboard.

River tugs on his shirt. There’s a pillow shoved under her dress. It makes her look like she’s got a lumpy, fat belly. She cups it tenderly and hums.

”I’m in the family way.”

Mei yong ma duh tse gu yong.

"I'll be in my bunk."

 

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, there was a princess. She lived in a castle, with servants, pretty dresses, and good food to eat. The little princess had everything that her heart desired. There were teachers that taught her about everything and anything, silk and satin slippers for dancing, and beautiful music to dance to.

One day, a magician approached the girl and her parents. He promised them wealth and fame beyond their wildest dreams and promised her the chance to learn the secrets of the universe. They accepted whole-heartedly.

For a time, the girl learned the nature of the world. She learned about its magic and its wonder, eating up everything the magician could teach her. The girl didn't realize that all magic had a terrible price.

There were secrets that she wasn't meant to know. There were people that were never meant to die. There were worlds that were never meant to exist.

It was easier to pretend that the Academy and her life before it was a fairytale. There were always happy endings in fairytales. She could tell the story over and over in her head, changing the details to protect the secrets from spilling out; no one would know the difference.

Jayne always knew.

There are things she ain't sayin', some awfulness that she don't want to tell...

It was comforting to know that he never would ask her the uncomfortable questions.

Fire fire, burning bright...

No, that wasn't right.

Zoe is flying. She hits the floor hard and her light retreats into the dark places. There is so much shouting, so much pain, and anger, and fear, and sorrow; she covers her ears to block it all out.

Serenity has gone quiet too. Her heart is cold and they drift through the sea of stars, growing colder too. 

When is Zoe going to wake up?

When are they going to run out of air?

Will someone find us?

Are we all going to die here?

No, no they are not. Captain has a fine plan, a plan to get help. There is a beacon drawing others to them, like moths to a flame. Captain will stay with the ship and they will be separated.

Shepherd Book, Kaylee and Jayne'll ride with Inara in her shuttle. Doc, you and your sister will go with Wash and Zoe, seein' as Zoe still needs some doctorin'.

"No," she says, quiet like a mouse. They look at her, unsure that she had even spoke.

Jayne's eyes are sharp and tired. He's tired of keeping quiet, tired of thinking up lies. He's tired because he hasn't slept in nearly twenty-six hours, all because his dreams have been haunting him. She's there in those dreams, the way she had been before the knives cut her deep. She's screaming for him and he isn't listening. She didn't know that he felt regret for leaving her.

So many times people said things but felt the opposite.

"No, I go with Jayne."

The dark sea of stars will swallow them up. They will be lost at sea. She would prefer to be lost with him.

"Moony don't know what she's talkin' about." Jayne is lying through clenched teeth. He doesn't want them to know, not yet. They'll jump to conclusions, they'll rip him to shreds, they'll assume the worst...

"Mei mei, why do you want to go with him?" Simon moves to place himself between them. He is careful to hide the fact he has her cocktail in his pocket. He's been carrying one around with him.

Vigilance against the destruction within.

"Two halves of a whole."

Dancing beneath the stars, with daisies in her hair. Mother's lace dress swirling around her knees and music to twirl to.

Jayne dreams of them like that, awake and asleep. He tells himself that they don't deserve a happy ending like that, but he still believes that it's possible. He hides his hope deep in his heart, where no one can find it but her. It becomes their shared dream. She wants them both to see it realized.

"Soulmates," Shepard Book says. They turn to him with worried faces.

"You said that before," Mal points to her, "when Saffron was lyin' her way through us. You said that you and Jayne were soulmates but you called her crazy." 

"That's cause she is," Jayne responds.

"But you didn't outright deny it." Shepard Book smiles almost knowingly. He's figured it out already. "I remember that the entire subject was changed when River called Saffron a thief. We were all thoroughly distracted after that and didn't say much more on the matter."

"Jayne was uncomfortable with where your thoughts were going. Everyone assumes the worst with him because he makes poor choices."

"Hey!"

"You do! Sometimes it is about money or whores, other times it is about soulmates." She stomped her feet like a child. "I won't be severed again!"

Simon places his hands on her shoulders. He turns her to face him and shakes her gently to get her attention.

"Mei mei, what is this about soulmates? You never mentioned anything-"

"They cut it out of me Simon. They severed the connection. We cannot meet, we cannot dream, we can only cling to the physical. I will not be parted from him again. Do not make me!" She pushes past them and buries her face into Jayne's chest.

His arms are around her; gentle and warm, safe and secure. They are like puzzle pieces. They fit.

"This true Jayne?" Mal asks. His hands are itchy.

"Aw hell, whatever dirty thoughts creeped all up inta yer head, you better get rid of, cause it ain't like that." His heart beats fast. "River and me are soulmates, we have been since forever. When the Alliance took her to that fancible academy they ripped out the part of her brain that connected us together. I ain't a good man Mal, but I'll keep all of them filthy hun dans from takin' her back."

There's a beat of silence where Jayne's declaration sinks in. They are shocked and in awe that the man they believed to be one way was so much different than they thought.

"Shepard, you'll switch with River."

"Captain-" Simon begins but is silenced with a sharp look. She can feel the gaze like a knife against her skin.

"We'll talk about this later. I mean it," Mal points at the two of them. River nods her head from where she has it pressed against Jayne. "We get the catalyzer, y'all get back here, and we'll sit down and talk 'bout this like civilized folk."

Jayne pushes her back a step, hands so large that they practically encircle her arms.

When did she get so thin?

"River," Simon says. He is betrayed. She never said anything about her soulmate. She never told him Jayne's name. He knew about her soulmate, about how he wasn't the kind of man their parents would have chosen, but Simon never judged her for it. Despite that, she had kept quiet about it all this time. Jayne had kept quiet all this time. 

Simon handed Jayne the hypo. Her soulmate frowned a deep scowl but took it. "Use it only if things are dire. No doubt she'll fight you for it but, it will give me peace of mind to know that you have it." Simon turned to her. "We'll talk about this later?"

River looked up into her brother's watery, blue eyes. "We will. It won't be long now."


 Jayne is holding her hand when Inara gets the wave from Simon. River is asleep, kneeling at his feet, her head resting on his knee and unaware of everything. Zoe is awake and ordering them all to head back to Serenity. He's never been so glad to listen to an order.

Inara regards them both with a quiet reverence. He knows that it has to do with the fact River and he are soulmates. Inara may be a fancified whore but he ain't met a single one yet that didn't believe in the power of soulmates.

Jayne lifted River up and tucked her into Inara's bed. Moonbrain hardly weighed a thing.

"You're gentle with her, not just when you handle her, you're gentle with her mind too." Inara's voice is quiet so not to disturb River.

"If you grew up knowing the stories I know bout her parents, you'd treat her gentle too."

Inara has the shuttle on auto for now, they're at least ten minutes out from Serenity, which gives her plenty of time to interrogate him.

"I'm sure that dealing with the separation for all these years didn't help either."

It had been the worst kind of hell. He held on to hope, blind faith, because if he didn't have that he would be left with nothing. A world without River wasn't that much of a world. 

"I think it's sweet how ya both sorta mirror each other. River's got all the proper educatin' smarts and you're the tough as nails merc that goes all soft-bellied round his little woman. It's like somethin' outta a story." Kaylee smiles over her cup of tea, much to Jayne's discomfort.

"I ain't soft-bellied!"


"Things are going to change round here on the notion that you two are soulmates. Like for starters, you ain't sleepin' together unless the hatch to Jayne's bunk is open and you both are wearin' clothes!" Mal's face is red and suitably appalled at the very idea that a man like Jayne was going to be lying in the same bunk as his dear sister. Simon prayed for whatever God there was to just smite him now while he still didn't know about his sister's private life.

"Done." Jayne and River said in unison.

"And there will be no sexin' until she's at least eighteen!"

Simon could feel the vein his forhead pulse. There wasn't going to be any sex with his sister on this boat, not if he had anything to say about it. If Jayne so much as touches a hair on her head, he was going to show the oaf-ish gorilla exactly how he earned his doctorate.

"Mal, I ain't gonna sex her till we get married."

No, no this definitely was what going mad feels like.

 

Chapter Text

The Hands of Blue are far behind them. Everything ahead is the dark expanse of nothingness, swallowing them up like some great whale. River hides in the shadows of the cargo bay, listening to the gentle hum of Serenity's heart. She's telling her the history of her soul, how she gathered them all and made a family. River can feel tears roll down her cheeks.

Happiness.

Bliss.

Contentment.

Simon's new cocktail muddies her mind, chasing away all the dreams, nightmares, and memories, turning them into sludge. It is good for her and it is good for Simon that he has hope. River would have all the nightmares in the world if it meant that Simon had his hope.

They didn't talk about the Hands of Blue. Frankly, River is glad that they don't talk about it. She doesn't want to remember.

Blood everywhere.

Oozing from eyes. 

From ears.

From mouths.

Screams never to be heard.

The memory leaves a bad taste of copper coins and mustard greens across her tongue. River curls in on herself. Here, in Serenity's bowels, she is safe. Serenity cradles her, rocks her, treats her kind as if she were a mother; she is perhaps, the only real mother that she has ever known. Her own mother cared little for her feelings. She was a problem child.

Too wild.

Too smart.

Too watchful.

Wrong.

"Hey!"

River looks up and sees's Jayne staring down at her through the grate. He has a disgruntled, pinched look to his face, which meant that he had been looking for her for a long time.

"Been lookin' fer ya for least an hour now and ya made us both miss dinner."

River wrinkled her nose.

"Mush is not dinner."

"Yeah well it's protein mush that'll keep ya alive another day. Now scurry on up here and maybe I'll look the other way while ya sneak some sweetnuts outta storage."

She weighed the options. The protein mash was worse than disgusting. Zoe cooked today. The mush would not be sweet like when Kaylee and Shepard Book make it. The Shepard hides his sugar well. Wash had bargained for the sweetnuts; sweet and crunchy, honeyed and crusted with sugar. Five, one for each sticky finger would not be missed.

"Will agree to deal. No nuts for you."

"Yeah well, don't need 'em anyhow. Protein mash should taste like it."

River crawled out and dusted herself off.

"Why you hidin' in there anyways?"

"It is Serenity's secret place. Many things have been housed there. The walls whisper stories and secrets."

Warmth.

Wealth.

Longing.

Love.

River looked up at Jayne. He loved her. She... She loved him, but more than that, she needed him. He was like Simon, a constant. There was no River without Jayne. No River without Simon. Maybe, maybe there wasn't even a River without Serenity. In many ways, this ship had become her home. She couldn't imagine not listening to the hum of her engine or the warmth of the ship's occupants. These people were her family now and she would protect them.

True to his word, Jayne kept a lookout while River snuck into the cupboard and plucked five nuts from the stash and deftly chopped them up to mix in with the grey mush. She cleaned up after and no one would be the wiser. They sat at the little table across from one another. Jayne ate deftly and in silence. River ate spoonful after spoonful, trying in vain not to make faces at the taste.

Jayne's leg bumped into her bare toes but he didn't look up from eating.

River pushed back, her toes pressing hard against his knee.


Wash wasn't a paranoid person. He'd like to think he had a decent amount of superstition coupled with a healthy survival instinct. So when he wandered down the corridor to the kitchen to investigate the weird sounds, he did so with utmost caution. He didn't expect to find Jayne with his shirt knotted around his face and River sitting on his back, eating a bowl of protein mash with a smug look on her face.

It seemed that he wasn't the only one on this boat with a woman that could bend a man in two with their pinky.

 

Chapter Text

There is a buzzing beneath her skin that won't go away. It is a heated throbbing that starts at her fingertips and spreads across her skin, through muscles and sinew, through bones and nerves, all the way to her heart.

It's the thrill of the hunt...

Kaylee is afraid. She can taste her fear on the air, sharp and stagnant in the vacuum of space. She can hear the silent screams that echo across dreams. The others are quiet and full of good things that so far from the nightmares that haunt her steps. They have not seen the deep horrors of the world; the things that crawl and bite and tear their way out her lungs. 

She too is afraid...

River stared off into the darkness of space. She was alone in the cockpit, nothing but Wash's little dinosaurs for company. Tiny little stars blinked off in the distance. They taunted her with their brightness, with their warmth. Here, on this ship, she was so close and yet so far from what she had been. 

Had she shone like that?

"River?"

Jayne's face melts into view, puzzled and cautious. They're in his bunk and a knife is in her hand. Her knuckles are white and her fingers throb. Too much pressure. She dropped it as it burned her. The clatter is deafening in the small room. River can't bear to meet Jayne's face. 

"I was at the helm, watching the stars." Nothing felt real. The rooms, the voices, the whispers in the dark, they all were phantoms.

Jayne took the knife and placed it on the table. His hands took hold of her own so gently that she wondered if this too was a dream. 

"Your hands are cold." He says the statement as if she hadn't just been standing in the middle of the room with bloodlust burning through her soul. "What's goin' on in yer head?" 

The gun in her hand is heavy with an extended mag holding twenty-six shots. She only needs three.

"I killed some men. They were gonna kill Kaylee." Jayne's eyes were calculating but kind. He was concerned but unafraid. 

"So? That's good, there's nothin' wrong with defendin' yer crew." Jayne pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her.

This was real. Nothing could fake Jayne, no dream or memory was as solid as he. 

"The itch won't go away. I scratched it and it burns now, like a constant reminder burning in my blood. Their thoughts, their eyes, their brief pain before the end; I can feel it all in my blood and it burns Jayne. Something is inside me that screams and beats against bloodied bars that refuse to bend. All the king's horses and all the king's men..." Tears trailed down her cheeks and Jayne just quietly held her in his arms. He brushed her hair with his strong, gentle hands and let her sob into his chest. 


Simon wandered into the kitchen that morning not expecting to see Jayne there. It wasn't his turn to cook, nor was it normal for him to be awake at this hour without his sister present. He lingered a moment out of view and watched as the other man mix something in the large stew pot on the stove.

"Might as well grab a seat doc, breakfast is almost done."

Between Jayne and his sister, Simon didn't know which one scared him the most with their stealth routine. He sat down, hand still over his chest in a vain attempt to calm down his pounding heartbeat.

As if it wasn't enough, the older man could sense the budding question Simon was about to utter.

"River had a rough night last night, bad dreams and stuff. And fore' ya ask, I had it handled so I didn't see no need in wakin' you up over it."

"At least she's stopped sleepwalking," Simon sighed. He rubbed his temple furiously. It was much too early for a migraine.

"Yeah, bout that. It ain't as bad as before, mind you, but I found her outta bed in the middle of the room." Jayne pulled out the ladle to taste whatever concoction he had whipped up with their rations. Simon tried not to grimace at the orange color.

If it wasn't one thing, then it was another. The hallucinations were easy but between River's sleepwalking, her nightmares, and the damage the scientists had done to her brain, there were too many problems to solve. All the medicine in the world couldn't fix all the wrongs done to his sister.

It made him angry. There was so much he hadn't seen in River's letters, so many signs that things were wrong. He should have noticed earlier, should have protected River from what those go tsao de bastards did to her. 

"I can try a different mixture of her medications, but the drug that suppresses her dreams makes her too lucid during the day. She would just wind up sleeping all day and she would hate it. Alternatively, I could try to tackle the visions, the schizophrenic episodes, but they make her sick." Simon buried his face in his hands. "I want to believe that I can fix what those men did to her, but I don't think I can."

"Would it be so bad?"

Simon looked up, the confusion probably apparent on his face because Jayne continued.

"River ain't like normal folk. She's always been able to sense stuff that others don't. Fore' those hun dans cut us apart, she used to tell me bout all the stuff people said when their mouths didn't move none. Used to say that was what made the soulmate stuff so nice, she could hear me but couldn't hear me." Jayne shut off the stove and moved to pot to the table.

"There's stuff that River tells me that I ain't shared with no one else and I ain't gonna start now, but what you gotta understand is that River ain't ever gonna be fixed to the way she was. Used to think that if I waited, if I said the right things, that somehow she'd come back all fixed for a while. I ain't gonna pretend like I understand all the things that were done to her brain but I understand that she's gonna have good days and bad days. We gotta be there for her through all of em."

He hadn't expected that from Jayne of all people. The man was everything that he hadn't wanted to face out here in the vastness of space; a brutish thug that walked around with a confidence that matched aim. He spoke crudely, acted crudely, but treated his sister with a tenderness that even Simon was incapable of matching. Despite all of his reservations about Jayne being his sister's soulmate, he knew now that the man was kinder than his appearance let on. 

"Wuh de tyen ah, who let Jayne into the kitchen?" Wash came into the room with a boisterous cry.

"It's my kitchen too Wash, so you can suck it up or go hungry," Jayne grumbled as he went to get the bowls.

"Jayne made breakfast? Has dust beneath our feet suddenly become gold?" Zoë followed her husband with an amused smile on her face. 

"It's just porridge, not nothin' fancy or hard." The older man dumped the bowls and mismatched spoons on the table before ladling two bowls.

Simon was about to question it when River passed by on silent feet. Jayne didn't even look at her, holding the bowl out for her to take, before taking a seat next to her at the table. River poked Jayne's cheek, her face wrapped up in one of her classic pouts. The man batted her hand away and poked her in the nose with a spoon.

It was so unbelievably domestic that even Zoë and Wash were a little stunned by it.

"What ya'll starin' for?"

"Soft, like butter," River replies. She sips at her porridge quietly. "Ooh, pumpkins."

Jayne's ears turned red. "I ain't soft!"

Simon laughed along with the others, much to Jayne's displeasure. He had to admit that the other man was right about his sister, that there would be good days as well as bad ones. He was going to make sure that he was there for all of them.

Chapter Text

"So's we ain't gettin' paid? Ow!" Jayne flinched at the swift slap River sends against his leg.

"Which is why Captain says anyone who have a mind to stay on ship are more than welcome to. No one is forcing you to come." Zoë plastered on her amused smile. Jayne didn't like her amused smile.

"These people need assistance. Money should be no object," Shepard Book said with a shake of his head.

"Yeah, well money keeps our bellies full," he grumbled. 

If he was honest, it wasn't that big of a deal that they take a job for no pay. Most times it fostered good partnerships, doing jobs out of good faith. Jayne also started saving a little bit from each of their jobs for him and River.

It hadn't been all that long ago that Simon cornered him in the cargo bay. He wanted assurance that Jayne would be able to take River and keep her safe if anything happened.

Just forget the others and take her, because these men, they don't even leave bodies behind.

Whoever these people were, Jayne didn't like how much they scared River. There were times that she would wake up in the night, still half-stuck in a memory of being tortured at their hands. Or, she'd be trapped in a program they fashioned for her, wound up for whatever battle they wanted her to fight. He held her through those bad nights, wiped away her tears, and gave her some bit of peace. 

Those nights were getting more common now. He had asked her one night, after River had woken up with silent screams and fingers clawing at his throat, what she was so scared of.

There's a pea sticking in me... I have to claw it out...

Jayne wasn't well versed in River's dream speech. Most of the time, he could gather the vague emotion behind her words. It was enough to get by and certain phrases were more obvious than others. He knew though that she had buried something, something so important that she locked it away so no one would find it. Now that she was looking for it, she was unearthing more memories that she had tried to lock away. It scared her; more importantly, it scared him.

Mal and Wash left for the bridge while Zoë and Kaylee went off together. It didn't escape his notice how Inara left for her shuttle so quickly that no one could even stop her with a word in. No one was going to either. The woman usually was the picture of composure, but today she was antsy and distracted. If he was right, and he probably was, everyone but Mal probably noticed.

River tugged on the hem of his shirt. He looked down to see her frowning fiercely.

"What's it?" Jayne raised an eyebrow.

"Too many words unsaid. Fleeting glances, heart palpitations, and whispered names made in darkened rooms. The rift keeps getting wider."

"Uh, who are we talkin' about?" Jayne asks. River looks up at him, her face contorted in a half-confused, half-disbelieving sneer. "So, we're talkin' bout the Captain and Inara then." Figures that River would pick up on the current train wreck that was Mal and Inara. Honestly, one of these days Inara was gonna up and leave 'em.

"Obviously."

"Yeah, I'm not openin' that can of worms. You can attempt to play matchmaker with those two bulls but leave me outta it."

Jayne didn't even dodge the playful punch River threw his way.


River knew how women looked at Jayne. If they weren't afraid of his stature, they were drawn to him like moths to flame. He was attractive, ruggedly so, and almost every woman entertains the thought of a man like Jayne whisking her off to some love nest. The women in the brothel looked at Jayne that way. She lingered by his side, eyes glaring daggers at anyone who dared to get too close.

He's dressed up finely today, with one of the nicer button ups that make him look almost respectable. There's a warm cedar scent about him from some aftershave that she can't remember the name of. 

Helen; older, experienced, curvy in places that River never would be, and hair like flaxen wheat. The woman eyed Jayne from across the room as they entered. Jayne saw her too. Lust rose in his blood. It pumped through his veins like a fierce poison, swelling in his thighs like the burn of exercise does a muscle. Then Jayne looks down to her, to small River with her dark eyes and dark hair, and dancer's frame. A warmth grows in his chest, bright and brilliant like sunshine.

It's love right?

Four leave to talk business and to plan their battle to wage their war.

Kaylee is lonely. Her heart lingers on soft hands and blue eyes that are unfortunately clinical and objective. He does not notice her affections, too distracted with other matters.

It happens more often now, her brother leaving her with Jayne. The two men share a knowing glance of unspoken words and River is free to flutter about as she pleases. Jayne is there to make sure she doesn't fall too far from the nest.

River turns and Helen is there, brain and body full of lust and the words come forth as a violent hiss. Her hands fly up and she retreats behind Jayne, glaring at the woman from behind his arm. He is her's and no woman in the verse shall have him. She will state her claim upon him now and tear apart anyone who dares to encroach upon her territory.

"Uh sorry bout River, she gets a mite bit antsy when her thoughts come in to fast. She's tryin' to say that I'm not interested. We're soulmates n' all, so I'm flattered but I ain't trespassin' or nothin'."

"You know I'm real proud of you Jayne. A year ago that never woulda happened," Wash says as the whore backs up a few steps.

"That's real sweet of ya. We ain't ever met anyone soulmated before." A dark haired woman comes closer to River, looking at her with interest.

Her lips are painted red and the corset she wears is already loose, easier to slip on and off. Her hair is done in dozens of tiny braids and pretty jeweled beads.

"Soulmated don't usually frequent places like this if they've met one another." Jayne lifts up his arm and look down at her. River puts on her very best pout. Jayne pats her on the head and doesn't say anything futher. He doesn't have to. All is forgiven.

The others come out from their war talk. Mal and Inara are to play pretend and size up their mark while the rest of them wait for them to return. 

Everyone takes to their duties and scatter about like worker bees. River doesn't know where to go. She doesn't have a place amongst the crew, amongst those that have ducks in neat little rows. How much longer will the farce continue? There is something that stalks them, that lingers in the their shadows. She can sense it on the edge of her vision, a speck amongst the cacophany of noise that runs through her at every moment. And further still, there is something darker that hides beneath words and phrases and blood and brain matter and-

Jayne's hand is warm wrapped around her own.

He's talking with Wash and a couple of the whores (Helen and boy named Cameron). He just holds her hand and the world grows just a little quieter. It's comforting and she can't help but smile.

Some thoughts can wait for other days, she thinks.


Things always seem to like going from bad to worse. Mal knew that the odds weren't all that great when they landed on this moon but Burgess was all the wrong kind of asshole that he didn't really want to fuck with. He was goin' to though. Ain't right what he was doin' to the girls here. Whores were people too.

River was oddly lucid, which was new if he was being honest. Most days she had an episode or two but all day she hadn't uttered a peep. Long as things stayed that way Mal was content.

They made preparations as well as they could and Jayne gave a couple of the whores a crash course in shootin' the hun dans in front of you rather than yerself in the process.

The doc was all busy with doctorin' which he didn't envy one bit. Childbirth was a whole different kinda war.

Mal knocked back another shot. The deeper he got the more and more Nandi began to resemble the kinda woman he wished Inara could be. Inara was wrapped up tight with her silly Core charms playing some kinda pretend game.

Companions were whores whith fancier titles and even fancier schoolin' but there wasn't a person in the Verse that didn't know they were still whores. 

Nandi got that. 

Nandi got him.

A few shots later and he's got his arms full of woman, soft and warm and wanting. His brain is swimming and tian shia he was wanting her too.

"I want you to bed me." 

Her voice is like honey wine.

"And I want to," he trails off.

"But?" Nandi sits back on her heels and looks not a mite bit upset. If he were sober it would have done a blow to his pride, but right now all he knows is that he's really making the right choice here.

"I've let things go on too long I think, tween me and Inara, reckon things oughta be set right."

Nandi smiles and it's one of those smiles he's seen on Inara's face, the kind that hide your feelings. She cups his face tenderly and kisses him again.

"You love her."

"I do."

It feels good to say out loud even under the circumstances.

"It's not easy, loving women like us. She might not walk away from it either, no matter how much she wants it. To throw away comfort on an uncertainty, it's not easy."

"No it ain't," Mal rubbed his face with his hand. "But she's worth it."

Waiting on a woman like Inara Serra was worth fighting all the wars there was.

Nandi pulled away and stood, wobbling just a bit on her feet. She caught her balance rather gracefully and tucked every loose bit back into place.

"I'm gonna check on the others, see to that they've settle in for the night. You're welcome to sleep on the couch but the bed is off limits." She gave him a sultry smile that was all genuine before slipping out of the room.

Mal loosened up his belt and the buttons of his shirt before settling down into the soft cushions.

Not many folk out in the Verse had soulmates like Jayne and River or Wash and Zoë. Despite that, folk still found one another, loved one another, and cherished one another. Maybe it was the drink talking, but Mal was tired of watching all the happiness around him when he wasn't even trying to reach out for his own.


Inara had packed and unpacked her things at least a dozen times since they returned to the ship. She was doing it; she was leaving and there wasn't anything in the Verse that would stop her. Malcolm Reynolds had insulted her, had trampled upon her feelings enough times in the past but Nandi was inconceivable. He could come up with all the excuses he wanted but she wasn't a fool.

No, she was a fool. She was perhaps the biggest fool for thinking that she could stay on board this ship while harboring feelings for a man that was so vehemently against who she was. Then he went and slept with a woman that was her, was possibly a braver and stronger woman than her altogether. It was like a slap in the face.

If she left immediately, forced them to turn towards the Core systems and leave, that would be too much. It would be too abrupt, too much like running away.

She was not running away.

Who was she kidding? Tears rolled down her cheeks and she didn't care. There was no one here to console her, no one to judge her for this weakness or try to comfort her. She didn't want comfort and she didn't want judgement. Inara just wanted to go back to when things were so simple, back to when she and Mal bickered and disapproved of one another on principal. It wasn't like now where she was questioning every single moment spent in the man's presence.

He didn't know how hard she had trained, how hard she had buried away feelings of fancy that she had once entertained as a young girl. The life of a Companion was not what she had envisioned, but it was her life to live. It was a good life and she loved it, loved what freedoms she had and the order that it gave her; but she had wanted to see worlds outside of books and maps. 

Now here she was, regretting it and wanting to run back to the tiny world where things made sense.

Inara wiped away her tears and composed her breathing. She reigned in the emotions and tucked them back into place like polished armor. Once more she was the Companion that made others stop in awe.

She would leave this place, leave Malcolm Reynolds behind and forge a new place for herself.

In time, she would forget him. Absence would not make her heart grow fonder, instead, it would be a balm against the open wound he had made of her heart. 

Just one more lie...

She opened up her trunk and began to unpack her things, one last time.