The scar itches where the skin has grown in around the sutures on his chest. It itches and it burns. The girl marked him as surely and permanently as them doctors scarred up her brain. Left him branded. Not that he was like to forget her anyway. Not often a man sees a girl spring outta a box the way she did that first day.
He tugs at a suture through the thin material of his shirt, wanting to rip it out with his bare hands.
Jayne hasn’t ever been known for a wealth of good sense, but he ain’t as dumb as they all think. Near lost his life ‘cause of the ruttin’ doctor and his sister. He was good as dead, stuck in the airlock, ‘cept Mal changed his mind.
He doesn’t expect to be as lucky the next time.
He likes it here on Serenity. Got a bunk all to his self, run of the kitchen whenever he wants, ten-percent of every take and women such as he ain’t never seen back home, even if he can’t touch a-one of them. He tells himself that he wont jeopardize a good thing.
Even likes the Captain, when it comes down to it. Man might act foolish most times, but he ain’t never been unfair. He’s honorable. Jayne didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘til he met Mal.
He kinda hoped some of it had rubbed off.
But honor ain’t contagious.
A better offer will come along eventually.
And that girl will be the death of him, if he lets her.
Hitching his bag over his shoulder, he slips through the airlock while the rest are still just waking, a cigar clamped between his lips and his armory strapped to his body. The sunlight is blinding as he steps onto the hard packed earth.
Jayne ain’t as dumb as they all think.
The ship ain’t the same since Miranda. There’s weight in the air and it makes him sluggish. Started botherin’ him so much, he asked Kaylee if the Grav-drive was done up all wrong and she just smiled at him in that way that makes his heart ache.
He finds himself watchin’ the others, wondering if they feel it too. The captain smiles still and Jayne stares too hard, trying to look past the shadows to see if it’s the same as before, until Mal stops smilin’ altogether and Jayne realizes he’s caught.
Simon and Kaylee are always glowin’ and he has to look away sometimes, ‘cause his eyes burn from lookin’ at all the happy. Only sometimes, he sees the desperation smolderin’ like coals underneath.
He looks away then too.
It don’t seem to phase Inara none, she don’t look a bit different. Elegant. Beautiful. Fragile. Like she couldn’t have raised a weapon and killed half a dozen Reavers like he knows she done. He wonders if she’s got it buried deep down and if it makes the nightmares worse.
He knows River feels it, ‘cause she told him so in that creepy, serious way with big, understanding eyes that shoulda sent him runnin’ in the opposite direction, but instead made him pull her into a sorta one armed hug. Only lasted a second before he realized what he was doing, and ran hell and high water for his bunk.
Sometimes, he sees Zoe’s smile stop nearly ’fore it starts and he thinks it’s maybe because she remembers half-way through that nothin‘s as funny without Wash. He tries extra hard to protect her when they’re out on a job. Almost gets Mal shot ‘cause he was tryin’ so hard to keep Zoe outta harm’s way. After, he kept his eyes focused on the dust at his feet when Mal lectured him. He didn’t mind it mostly, ‘cause he can protect her from the bullets, but not the memories that freeze her smile.
The ship ain’t the same since Miranda, and Jayne thinks it’s because they’re a family now.
He packs his bag one day and tells ‘em all he’s leavin’. They kick up a mighty fuss trying to stop him, and that’s how he knows he’s makin’ the right decision.
The gravity on Three Hills is Earth-norm, but with each step he takes away from Serenity he feels it pulling down on him, ‘til he can barely lift his feet from the ground.
He trudges on and doesn’t look back.
He lost a brother on Haven and another on Miranda… he won’t be around to lose more.
He ain’t good at this. Best tracker in the ‘verse, he’d boasted to Mal when he hired onto Serenity. But this ain’t back woods and desert, it’s a ship and the tracks she left ain’t made of dust.
…put a bullet…
He ain’t scared, but his hand shakes. Can’t stop himself from thinkin’ what she did. Sees it behind his eyelids every time they close.
She ain’t prey, but he hunts her anyway.
Ain’t a preacher. But he stands over them all, thinkin’ on what the Shepherd would say. Trying to picture Book’s face, but it’s all hazy.
He rubs his eyes.
He ain’t cryin’.
He ain’t a pilot neither, but he manages to land Serenity without crashin’ her.
He’s not sure he’d care if he did.
…gonna have to…
He ain’t a sentimental man. He opens the doors to the ship and breathes in the fresh air and it don’t matter.
He still smells the copper of blood.
He walks off the ship, doesn’t take anything with him but the clothes on his back.
He feels naked without a weapon, but his are all stained red.
He looks down at his hands, seein’ them dripping blood, though he’s washed them a hundred times. Doesn’t think it’ll ever come off.
…a bullet to her…
He ain’t gonna be free of this. Can’t ever be free of Serenity.
Jayne ain’t never been one for goodbyes. Usually, when he was leavin’ a place it was at the urgin’ of one kind of weapon or another, and he wasn’t wishin’ anything near nice on the person (or persons) he was partin’ company with.
‘Course, Serenity was different.
Knew that right from the start, when the Cap’n hired him on and then didn’t kill him straight off when he wasn’t at gunpoint no more. Not that he expected him to, Jayne was good at sussin’ out a man’s character, but most men wouldn’t have done like Mal.
He smirked, weren’t no one quite like Mal in the entire ‘Verse. And Jayne had seen plenty of what the ‘Verse had to offer.
He hadn’t ever planned on stayin’ on Serenity forever, but he lasted longer there than anywhere else he’s been. Always felt a little lighter walkin’ toward the ship after a job, or even a night on the town after a good payday.
Been plenty of bad times aboard, maybe even more than their fair share, but he don’t regret ever signing on with Mal’s crew.
‘Cept for maybe right now.
He’s got River climbin’ on him like a jungle gym, her legs wrapped around his waist and her arms secure around his neck, makin’ it near impossible to give Kaylee a proper hug. Not that the mechanic was minding, she seemed plenty content to squeeze the life out of him, River and all.
He looked to Simon for help, but the Doc only made a half-hearted attempt to get River off before making a long speech about friendship and circumstances and all sorts of other stuff that Jayne already knew. And puttin’ it into words, even fancified words, was ruining it.
Wash cracked a joke, and then another. His running commentary kept goin’ and goin’ ‘til Jayne felt near to shuttin’ him up himself. Except, he figured he might as well get an earful of the pilot’s smart mouth before leavin’. Didn’t expect to hear from it again.
Book gave him a quiet smile and even softer words, and somehow Jayne heard him over Simon’s speechifying and Wash’s one-man-act and Kaylee’s crying. Jayne thinks he might miss Book most of all.
Stuns him a little, when Inara steps forward, stepping into the millimeter of space between Kaylee and River and wraps her arms around the three of them. There might be tears in her eyes and he looks helplessly at Zoe, beggin’ her not to join the rest of the women on board in this crazy group hug.
She laughs and shakes her head, but she watches them and wraps her arms around herself.
Mal hangs back and Jayne can see the way his eyes are dartin’ all around, the way they do when he’s plottin’ at something. He hopes Mal don’t ask him to stay. Might be able to resist the girls and the rest of the crew, but if Mal asks he might just…
He quickly disengages from Kaylee and Inara, peeling River off himself, and slings his bag over his shoulder. He offers his hand to Mal. “Cap’n.”
Those eyes that were dartin’ about so quick before fix on his and they clasp hands. “Jayne.”
A glimmer of a smile, and then Jayne turns his back on Serenity to face Jericho and the achingly familiar house silhouetted by the falling sun.
It was Kaylee, in the end, who told him how to do it.
Cap’n ordered him to help with the heavy lifting in the engine room, and that girl couldn’t ever stop talkin’ about her baby. This part ‘n that part, what they did and how they worked.
Docket sensor’s most fragile thing on this boat. Made o’ glass. It shatters, we ain’t goin’ no where ‘til we get ‘nother. Ain’t like too though, near impossible to get to.
Girl didn’t lie. Took him more’n an hour to wedge himself in close enough, the metal of the engine pressing hot to his belly and back. Didn’t take more than a tap to break the sensor, gorram thing was only as big as his fingernail. He smiled grimly, wiggling his way back out. It would take her days to find what was wrong.
She wouldn’t have days.
Jayne didn’t ever make the same mistake twice. Kept his head all full of sex and violence, so River weren’t like to poke around. And he waited. Kept waitin’ til he got a contact he could trust. Someone who’d pay in advance for the delivery and give him time to escape.
Ain’t many stupid enough for that, but Jayne found one. The reward ain’t as much as Dobson offered or the Feds, but he figures it’s evened out, because this time, he’s walkin’ away.