Left Behind

I: Waves

When the wave comes, Regan almost deletes it automatically.  She doesn't recognise the sending code, and lately, they've had some odd, disturbing messages, enough so that Gabriel's considering reporting them to the law.  Still, something about this specific wave makes her pull it up on screen and request that it start.

It takes her a moment to recognise the face on her screen.  It has been years, after all.  Simon looks different. Older, certainly, but it's more than simply that.  He looks rougher, harder.  More capable.  There's a small scar on his forehead, visible and shining in the poor lighting where ever he made the wave.

He looks like an adult.

Regan sits down as he starts talking.

"Hello Mother.  Father."  He laughs, a harsh sound that she is unused to hearing.  "It seems strange to say those words.  They're so intimate.  I thought about calling you Mr. and Mrs. Tam.  Or perhaps your given names.  But," he pauses, and some emotion flickers across his face, "Mother and Father just sound so much more touching."  He laughs again, and she flinches at the sound.

"If you're watching this, it's because River and I are dead."  He smirks out at her.  "It's so dramatic to say those words.  I doubt the reality was very dramatic, though.  More likely it was bloody and terrifying."

His voice is so cold.

"I'm only saying that because mostly, that's what our lives are: bloody and terrifying.  You'd never imagine some of the things River and I have seen.  And done.  Then again," his tone turns hard, unyielding, "you'll never have to.  How positively lucky for you."

He smiles at her, his lips curling in an unpleasant way.  "Of course, it's not all bad.  I've fallen in love.  Well, perhaps not love so much, but it's nice to at least get some physical pleasure out of this life.  You'd hate him, mother.  He's everything you tried to keep away from me."  He grins, a feral look.  "Still, he makes the nights here interesting.  Those nights we're not trying to just stay alive, anyway."

There's a long pause, like he's giving her time to digest what he has just said.  He's grinning at her the entire time, and she can't quite look away.

After a short pause, he holds up a picture.  She recognises River, a grown woman now. 

"See this?  I took it last week.  We were at a fair, having a good time for once.  It was fun.  See how she looks at me in this picture?"  He moves the picture closer to the viewer, and she leans forward to better see the details.

River looks happy.  Her hair is a mess, and her dress is atrocious, the same sort of cheap clothing as Simon is wearing.   But River's looking at the photographer with love and joy. 

Regan feels her heart twist at the sight.

Simon pulls the picture away, and something inside her is glad.  "It's a beautiful picture, don't you think?  This was one of the good times.  She hadn't ranted or done anything dangerous for days. We went to the fair as a reward.  She had so much fun.  Until about two hours after I took this picture, when she saw a man with a blue work glove on one hand."

As he leans closer to the imager, Simon's face fills the field-of-view.  "She threw a fit, as my crewmates are inclined to put it.  You really can't imagine what it was like.  She screamed for days.  I had to sedate and restrain her, because she was hurting herself and driving the rest of the crew mad.   Right now, she's still sleeping it off." He leans back, and a sound in the background makes him look to the side.  He nods to something -- someone? -- out of the imager's view range.

"She'll be fine in a few days. Until the next time."  His eyes narrow.  "This is what they did to her. This is what you let happen."

Crossing his arms in front of him, he glares out at her.  "I've often wondered how things might have been different if I'd been able to get her out of the academy sooner.  If I'd had help from someone with your kind of connections, father.  As it is, she's barely the sister I knew.  I work every day to try and make her better, but it's getting worse. It's terrible to say, but there isn't much a person can do for someone whose brain has been toyed with."

He laughs again, a short, sharp bark that chills her to the bone.  "Of course, it doesn't matter now.  We're dead.  I wonder how it happened?  There are so many fun ways I can think of: Reavers, Alliance, raiders, dead in space, shot up in a job gone wrong, killed by petty thieves.  The list goes on, and it's endlessly fascinating."

They're the first concrete words he's said about the life they have been leading.  It's the life of on outlaw, not that it's surprising to hear that.

"I'm sure you don't really care about any of this.  But I thought you might want to know."

He reaches out to turn off the viewer, and a male voice in the background says, "Simon".  He looks to the side again and nods once more, his face softening slightly.  When he turns back to the screen, all traces of that softness vanish.  Then he leans forward and says very quietly, "I hope you both get what's coming to you."

Her screen goes blank.  Regan doesn't know quite what his words might mean, but they leave her cold.


II: Appropriate

Smoothing her hand over her dress, Inara thinks, not for the first time, that black is not an appropriate colour for a Companion.

Rich, deep, reds, and royal blues, yes.  Light, acid greens mixed with gold and the faintest hint of purple, of course.  Silvers, deep oranges, shining yellows, all are acceptable.  But black, no. 

She should stop wearing it, but she can't.

She's standing in her dressing chamber when Selene enters.  "Mistress?"

"Good morning, Selene."

"Is there anything you require?"

Selene is a good girl, a beauty with a sweet disposition that reminds Inara of Kaylee.  It's one of the reasons she'd offered the girl the position as her assistant.  One day, when her training is finished, Selene will be a Companion of the highest quality.  Now, Inara enjoys watching as she learns skills and deportment.  "No, thank you.  I would like you to serve tea to me and the visiting sister later, though."

Selene nods, but there's something in her expression that is less than serene.  "Mistress?"


"May I make a -- personal enquiry?"

Inara thinks about it for a moment.  She knows it must have taken Selene some time to gather the courage to ask.  "You may."

There's a small pause, and Selene looks away as she asks, "How long will you mourn him?"

The question is delicately asked, with just the right combination of compassion and reprimand.  She will have to commend Selene on that later.

Inara hasn't said a word about her reasons for wearing black all these weeks, but gossip, refined though it may be, runs rampant through the House.  Most likely, they think a favoured client has passed on, perhaps one from Inara's mysterious past.

They don't know that Inara has memorised the wave she received.  They know nothing of her old home and the life she lived before she took this position.

It was Wash who had contacted her.  It had surprised her that he would be the one to tell the news.  She thought it would have been Kaylee.  Or the Shepherd.  Certainly not Jayne.  Simon and River would have been nervous that the wave might be intercepted and possibly traced.  But Wash. It had been strange.

She plays the images out in her head, for what must be the hundredth time.

"Hey, Inara."  Wash's kind face was tight.  He looked tired.  "I hope you're doing well.  We all still miss you, especially Kaylee.  It's harder for her to be girly now, she always says."  He smiled, but then the expression slid from his face.  "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Mal...he's gone.  Um.  He got shot up in a fight, I guess maybe you won't be so surprised to hear that." 

He laughed a little, a sad, hurt sound.  When she'd watched the wave for the first time, Inara had wanted to reach out and touch his face.  "If Mal had to go, that's the way he would have chosen.  I'm sorry we couldn't wait to have the funeral with you.  We didn't...we couldn't store the body.  It's been hard, since.  Zoe's in charge, you probably figured that out.  Jayne's ornery, I'd say he's even sad.  Kaylee.  Well, you know Kaylee.  She's crying a lot right now.  It's...it's not good.  Simon's trying to help her, but she loved Mal. You know."

She knows.

"I guess.  It would be good for her to hear from you.  Helpful.  I know you've been gone years and all, but she always could talk to you."


"We'll be on Persephone in about three months, just for routine stuff.  If you want.  If you can, it'd be real nice for you to meet up with us.  I know you're busy. Kaylee told us about you being the House Priestess and all.  But, if you have time."  He stopped then, and just stared at the viewer.  "Take care, Inara."  The words were final, like he knew she wouldn't come.

It has been nearly three months now.  She could schedule a trip to Persephone.  It would be easy, and it would be good to see Kaylee again.  Perhaps she could bring Selene, teach her a bit about life outside of the walls and rituals of the House.


Selene's voice brings her back to matters at hand.

"I'm sorry, Selene. I was thinking of something else."  She deliberately doesn't answer the question asked earlier.  "Please, will you put up my hair?"

"Of course."

She sits down in front of her mirror, and watches carefully as Selene arranges her hair in a complicated, elegant style.  She smiles, pleased the girl has learned these skills so fast.   "It looks lovely."

Selene smiles, her skin flushing lightly at the complement.  It's another endearing trait, one that will win the hearts of her clients. 

"Come.  We shouldn't dally all day in here."

As they leave the dressing room, passing through Inara's chambers to the public parts of the house, Selene says quietly, "Black is not a Companion's colour."

Inara is silent for a few paces.  The comment is audacious, but true.  Finally, as they are about to enter the music chamber, Inara replies, "I know."


III: Responsibility

They bury him on Borealis.  The moon's small and sparsely populated.  Mal had suggested taking Wash home, or at least trying for the local cemetery.   Zoe had shaken her head, saying the town didn't deserve to have his remains, not after being the cause of his death.

Mal thinks that's a mistake.  Wash had liked people around him all his life.  Seems wrong to bury him out here alone. 

Book had tried to argue for consecrated ground, but Wash hadn't put much faith in anything other than Zoe and Serenity, and Mal said as much.

Zoe's husband, Zoe's wishes. 

Weather's good for it, and the hole was easy to dig.  The burial takes place a few hours from dusk.  Book says the words, but Mal barely listens.  He's busy concentrating on Zoe beside him.

Her face is blank.  It has been for days.  The baby in her arms is quiet, and Mal isn't surprised.  Wash might have been a talker, but any child of Zoe's would be the silent type.

Eventually, Book stops talking.  Kaylee's crying in the background, has been for hours now.  Jayne is walking the outskirts, angrily kicking anything he can see.  River and Simon are silent and grim.  Inara is graceful and sympathetic.

Zoe stands there, staring at the grave and the flowers Kaylee put on it.  Mal stays with her as the others slowly drift away.

"He was a good man."

Zoe nods.  "I know."

It's awkward, but he can do this.  He can get Zoe through this trial too.  "I'm glad you married him.  I wasn't right pleased at the time, but he was good.  For you.  For all of us.  It's right that you had that."

She nods again and absently shifts the child into another position.  Mal has never met a woman know what to do with her first child as easily as Zoe.  She's good at everything she turns her hand to.

"I'm real sorry."

There's a long pause, and she says, "It should have been me out there."

He wants to nod, because he agrees with her.  Zoe, who is the better shot.  Zoe, who can spot trouble a mile away.  Zoe, the one he always wanted next to him in a fight.  Instead, he says, "He wanted it to be him.  He was always sayin' mother and child needed to bond in the first few months.  You can't be everywhere at once."


They're silent for a while, and Mal watches the sun move slowly across the sky.   His eyes burn, even with the filter of the moon's strange atmosphere, and eventually he has to look away.  He's blinking when Zoe says, "I've been talking with Kaylee."

Something in her voice makes him tense.  "Yeah?"

"She says her parents will take the baby. That they'd love a kid, that they're always bugging her about grandkids."

The baby.  The way she says it is so detached. 

"Kid's got a name, Zoe."

Turning, she looks at him. 

"You can't just put her away like she never existed."

She doesn't stop staring at him.

"Zoe --"

"No.  I have other responsibilities."

He'd said those same words to her when the subject of a baby first came up.  Told her about her responsibilities to the ship, to him, to Kaylee and the others.  Calm as can be, he'd explained how a baby would be a distraction. 

Not to be cruel.  Not because it was about controlling Zoe and his crew.  Because it was best, them living the way they do.

Now the words are coming right back to haunt him, and he wants to curse.  As much as he thinks a baby means hard decisions, it ain't right, her being detached like that.

"Kaylee's parents will take her."

"Zoe.  It ain't --"

She covers his mouth with her hand, and the action surprises him.   She isn't one to touch him that way, for all the closeness they've always had.  "Mal.  I can't. Not now."

And she walks away, leaving him standing by Wash's grave.


IV: Bored

"It ain't fair."  Kaylee says the words again, but there's nothing behind them, like she's worn out from it all.  "Why her?  She was so good. It ain't fair."

Jayne's not sure if he's supposed to say something.  Course it ain't fair.  Nothing's fair in the 'verse,  'specially not on the edge of the 'verse, but Jayne's never been one for talking about it.

If Kaylee wanted revenge, if she wanted a night out drinking to forget, he could do that.  As it is, he's just confused.  So, he keeps his mouth shut.  She ain't talking to him anyway.

She's talking to the doc, and as far as Jayne can tell, neither of them really know he's in the kitchen with them anyhow.   He stays in his chair, half-watching and listening to them as he drinks his coffee. 

The coffee tastes like crap.  The only one of them who could ever make it more'n half decent was Inara.

The doc doesn't have good answers to Kaylee's question.  He murmurs soft little words and holds her hands.  He's been doing that for a while now, as Kaylee cried herself out. 
Probably should have been Mal sitting there and doing the comforting, but Mal and Zoe are out on a job, and they don't know yet.  Jayne figures there'll be hell to pay when they get back. 

He didn't much care for Inara himself, 'cept what good she was for fantasies and making decent coffee.  She was full of herself, although Jayne'll admit he'd enjoyed bugging her.  Few of her kind could likely hold her own with Jayne the way she had.

But Kaylee had been real close to Inara.  So close he'd sometimes had a little fun, alone in his bunk, thinking about what kind of friends they were. 

"I hope the Guild hurts him before they kill him."

Those aren't little Kaylee's kind of words. 

"Oh, they will.  The Guild is a force in its own right."  Simon's tone is hard in a way Jayne's rarely heard.

The client -- killer --  is in the local jail, waiting for the Guild to come get him.  The local law had comm'ed to tell them of the charges.  To say Inara wouldn't be coming back.

Jayne's seen the jail here.  Hell, he was in it once, back before Mal hired him in.  He broke out, one of the reasons he's on Serenity, and not out on the job with Mal and Zoe.

"Let's not rile the local law too much, this time.  Keep a low profile," Mal had said.

So much for that.

Jayne got out of the jail.  Getting back in would be easy, 'specially since he's better armed now.

He thinks about it for a few more moments, then tunes back into Kaylee and the doc.  Kaylee's crying again, her face red, her eyes swollen.  She looks like crap, but still somehow better than she did in that damn pink party dress. 

Companion Guild might get real nasty when one of its own is hurt, but if the killer's rich or has the right connections, he might get off.  The law works different for the rich, no matter what the Alliance rules say.  And Jayne knows it works different in this town.  Could be by the time the Guild gets here, Inara's killer'll be long gone from the jail, the town.  Maybe the planet. 

Mal would likely figure the same thing.  He won't wait for the Guild when he gets back.  Jayne knows well enough that 'cause it's Inara, Mal'll more'n likely go off half-cocked, pull some kind of stupid stunt that'll get them all pinched by the law. 

It's better as a one-man job.  And it might go a ways to convincing Mal once and for all there'll be no more screw-ups like on Ariel.

Mal and Zoe won't be back for a day, at least.  And hell, Jayne's bored.  He's never been one for sitting around, listening to people talk about their feelings. 

Better to take care of problems before they get worse, Zoe says. 

Jayne makes up his mind.  Setting his mug down, he stands, already thinking of the weapons he'll need to take.

As he leaves the kitchen, Kaylee and Simon don't seem to notice.


V: Left Behind

The town is a mudball.  There's a mine off in the background.  Mal can see the machinery and even if he didn't know what that meant, the big sign with the arrow and the word 'Mine' would have tipped him off.  It makes him snort.  The town is hard-working, grim, simple, and just the kind of place Mal can picture Jayne growing up.

It was out of the way to get here too.  The rest of the crew are off on a milkrun; so Mal ended up having to take a shuttle to the moon.   Zoe had tried to talk him out of it, but Mal can count on one hand the number of times Jayne asked something from him, something more substantial than time off for a little fun.  It's only right to do this for the man, despite how much of a pain in Mal's ass he'd made himself.

He's got his instructions, but the directions weren't so good, so Mal finds himself in a bar with a beer, looking to ask around for the people he's seeking out.  After a while, he gets to talking with the barkeep, who, like most of his kind, is a font of information, if you just know how to ask right.

"I'm looking for the Cobbs."


"I know the parents are dead, but I hear there's a handful of kids."

"Were.  Leslie, Marion, Jayne, Davey."  The man wipes down his bar, and continues.  "Jayne took off years back, ain't heard about him since.  Marion went and got killed in the war.  Leslie got crushed in the mines.  Davey's the last one left."

It strikes him as real sad that Jayne didn't even know his siblings were dead.  "You want to tell me where I can find this Davey?"

The barkeep looks suspicious.  "Who wants to know?"

"I got word from Jayne."

The guy grins at him.  "Oh yeah?" He starts to laugh.  "That kid.  He was so wild.  A ton of laughs, but miles more trouble.  I'm surprised he's still alive."

Finishing off his drink, Mal sighs.  "He ain't.  I got his effects to give to his family."

That sobers the barkeep up fast, and Mal's a touch surprised to see genuine regret on the man's face.  He gets given directions, and he heads on out. 

Davey lives a bit out of town.  It takes him an hour of solid walking to get there.  Half-way there, he realises he should have just taken the shuttle, but there's no sense in turning back.

Eventually, he sees the place.  The house ain't bad, and there's something growing, green and healthy, in the fields out back.  It's homey, and it doesn't make Mal think of Jayne at all.  As he approaches the front door, it opens, and an ornery looking woman steps out.  She's holding a gun in front of her, and it looks like she knows how to use it.

"Who're you?"

Standing still, he nods politely.  "Mal Reynolds.  I'm looking for Davey Cobb."

She stares at him a minute, and says, "You got her."

He should have known.

"What'd you want?"

"I got some unfortunate news.  Your brother Jayne was in my employ. Got himself killed by some Feds a few months back."  He doesn't bother to cushion the news.  Jayne's note said it wasn't necessary, they could all handle it fine.

She lowers the gun.  "Shot?"

He shakes his head.  "Blown up."

Her eyes close briefly, but then she squares her shoulders.  "His own fault?"

"No, ma'am.  He was one of the best mercs I ever paid.  He'll be missed."  It's not really a lie.  He holds out the pack in his hand.  "He asked I pass this onto you."

She comes away from the house, and takes the bag from him.  "What's in it?"

"His favourite weapons. Some money and personal effects."

Nodding, she cradles the bag in her arms, then she stares at it for a few moments.  "Thanks.  For bringing the news."

"I'm sorry."

Shrugging, she says, "He chose the life."


"You want a drink before you head back?"  She gestures to the house. 

He doesn't, really.  He's due to meet up with Serenity in fourteen hours, and it'll take twelve at least to get to the spot.  And it's awkward, the thought of drinking with Jayne's sister, the one left behind.  But she's looking at him real hard, and kind of sad, so he nods.  "Sure.  Kind of you to offer."

"C'mon in, then."

Hands in his pockets, Mal follows her into the house.


VI: Burden

Simon says he'll do it alone, but Zoe goes with him anyway.  It's not fair for him to carry the burden, and she's not entirely sure what might happen to him out there.  There's no use in losing him now.

As they walk to the house, Zoe notes the slump in his shoulders.  He's taking it hard, hardest of them all, and she knows why.

Doctors should always be able to save lives.  Simon's confidence in his skills was one of the few things he had left.  Now, she worries that's gone too, and it doesn't bode well for the future.

When they get to the house, Simon knocks politely.  A pleasant-looking, smiling woman
answers the door.  "Yes?"

"Mrs. Frye?"

She nods.  "That's me."

"I'm Simon.  This is Zoe."

She's still smiling, but uncertainly now.

"We worked with your daughter.  Kaylee."

She laughs.  "Kaylee!  How is that girl?  We ain't heard from her for weeks."  Something on their faces must tell her, because she stops smiling fast.  "What is it?"

Putting her hand on the woman's shoulder, Zoe asks quietly, "May we come in?"

"Yes.  Oh, of course.  I'm so sorry.  So rude of me."  She's babbling nervously now, and Zoe just feels...empty.

Inside, they sit at a worn table.  It's the kind of table that's been used for years by  a family, and Zoe can almost see the love etched into it.

Simon takes the lead. "Mrs. Frye, I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but Kaylee passed away about a month ago."

Her body goes slack, but her face tells Zoe she was expecting to hear this.  There's a long silence, then Kaylee's mother asks,  "How?"

Simon tells the story like he had been there.   Of course, he'd come later, but he's heard the story enough to paint a true picture.

He describes the little moon, and the shack in the junkyard that Kaylee had wandered into.  He lays the facts out clearly.   She called out that she'd found some good stuff, that she was going to tinker a little.

Zoe can remember the indulgent grin Mal had sent her way as they waited and talked with the junkyard owner.  Jayne had been wandering around, half-alert, half-bored.

After, she'd tried to explain it to Wash.  They'd heard a thump, a muffled, human sound.  And there had been an explosion.

She tunes back in to Simon's words.  "She had third-degree burns over 85 percent of her body.  Her lungs were --" He stops talking details as Kaylee's mother starts to look sick.  "It was bad.  I'm sorry.  I tried to save her."

And he had. It had been almost a revelation, seeing him work so hard, so well.  He'd been so calm.  It wasn't until days after that Zoe saw Simon break down.  By then, she'd pulled herself together, and gotten on with doing what needed to be done.

There's a long silence, and when Mrs.Frye next speaks, it's with anger. "And where's the gorram captain, this Mal she was always goin' on about in the waves?  He too high and mighty to come down and say he let my little girl get killed?"

Zoe fights the wave of sickness that comes at the words.  She tries to speak, but nothing comes out.   Simon's calm voice answers for her.

"He got injured in the fire."

The woman looks stricken.  "Oh."

"He pulled Kaylee out, but part of the ceiling collapsed on him.  We got him out, but he isn't, " Simon pauses, "He's in a bad way.  I know he'd be here if it were possible."

Zoe remembers, her and Jayne fighting to put the flames out, her all the while wanting to shoot at the junkyard owner until he told her what the hell was in a a little shack that could burn that hard and hot.  Jayne got himself burned, and the right side of his body will always carry the scars.  Zoe got off easier, but as the others talk, she absently fingers the skin graft on her left arm. 

"Oh.  I'm...I'm sorry for my harsh words."

Simon nods.  He's good at this, good at soothing.  Zoe imagines he must have had to break the news of death to relatives before.  He'll save his mourning for when they're in private.  He'll not break down in front of this woman.

Zoe's grateful he's there.


VII: Secrets

They're in another small, crappy town when it happens.  Jayne, Mal and Zoe are out in the streets, just easily enjoying the day after a job that messed up, but eventually got done.

Wash is with the ship.

Kaylee, River, Simon and Inara are at the market, all with money to burn.

And Book is visiting the new church, much to the delight of the parishioners.  They don't yet have their own full-time preacher.

Jayne is tense, but that's usual.  Whenever they ain't flying, he gets nervous.  Staying in one place for too long -- ain't a good idea, what with 'fugies on the ship.  Especially when them 'fugies insisted on getting off this ship this time.

So, he's tense, he's looking for a place to spend his money, and he's waiting for trouble, no matter what Mal said about the planet being far from Alliance forces.

The trouble though, when it comes, it don't have nothing to do with the doc and his sister.

First hints they get are the crowds.  People are streaming towards the church, and it's been a while, but Jayne don't ever remember people moving that fast to church for just the sermon.  Looking at Mal, he says, "Trouble?"

"Might be."

Slowly, the three of them follow the crowd.  They stay at a distance, but they follow, and Jayne hopes River and Simon had the sense not to get involved in something too gorram stupid for words.

When they get to the church, there's a ruckus outside.  There's some yelling, but it's hard to see what about, there's so many people.  Jayne just grunts, and starts pushing his way through the crowd.

It's as he's moving that he hears the Preacher's voice. 

"Put the gun down, son."

Ah, crap.  He starts to move faster, knowing Mal and Zoe are doing the same thing from other angles. 

There's more yelling, words like war and massacre, and Jayne can't figure it out, but when he hears the shot, he knows this ain't gonna turn out good.  When he finally breaks through the crowd, the sight he sees ain't welcome.

Preacher, dead on the ground.  Jayne ain't no doctor, but he can see the man ain't going to be getting up again.  The side of his head's blown clean off. 

Standing over the body is a man.  His eyes are wild, crazy-like.  His hands are shaking, but the gun is still being pointed around him.  Idiot couldn't look more insane if he was foaming at the mouth.

Without thinking about it, Jayne tackles the guy.  He goes down easy.  He shakes the gun loose, pats the man down for more weapons, then yanks him upright just as Mal and Zoe break through the crowd. 

Mal's more furious than Jayne's seen in a good long time. Not since Ariel, and that's saying something. "You killed my Preacher."

There's some babbling from the idiot, and Jayne shakes him, real rough.

"Best tell us what the gorram hell you were thinkin'.  Now."  Zoe's got a gun to the guy's head.  Maybe the fear sobers him up a little, because he starts talking in a way that makes more sense.

"The war.  He did it.  He did it!"

Mal's jaw is clenched tight, real tight.  "Did what?"

And Jayne listens, not believing it, as the man -- a raving lunatic, worse than the doc's sister -- tells the story of Book leading a bunch of Alliance troops into a village suspected of hiding Independent weapons and intel.

Things got out of control.  The troops went wild.

Burned the town to the ground.

Children, piled dead on top of each other.

Jayne's never been one for lots of talking, especially from murderous crazy folk.  Out in these parts, there's only one way to deal with this kind. 

The idiot's still gabbling, sobbing, shaking. 

Waste of breath, waste of space.

Jayne reaches out and snaps his neck, fast.


VIII:  Hope

The ship don't fly as smooth now.

That's how Kaylee thinks of it.  It's the best way, because when she thinks Zoe is dead and Wash is broken up, it just makes her all tight inside.  So instead, she thinks that Serenity don't fly as smooth.  It's like Wash lost the best parts of his pilot skills when Zoe died. 

It's been longer than a week, and so far, Wash hasn't said one word to any of them.  Not since the funeral, back on Boros.   He's just stopped talking, and that ain't right. 

Sometimes, Kaylee goes and talks to him. It's awkward, but sometimes he touches her shoulder, like he appreciates her trying.  So, she keeps it up.  Because Zoe wouldn't want her man in pieces, no way.  And Kaylee never wanted to disappoint Zoe.

She's walking to the cockpit now, where Wash spends most of his time.  He's sleeping there too, like his bunk holds no comfort.

Today, like most days, he's sitting, staring out at the stars.

"Hi, Wash."

He doesn't turn to her, but his head tilts slightly.  She wonders if the captain tries talking with Wash.  It's hard to say, 'cause he's gone awful quiet of late too.  Poor captain, poor Wash.
She can imagine the two of them sitting together, real quiet, real sad.

"I brought you some food.  I know you ain't hungry, and this ain't real tasty, but you gotta eat."  She moves closer, and sets the plate on the floor next to him.  "I'll just leave it here, 'kay?  You can eat it if you want."  She wants to say that Zoe wouldn't want him wasting away, but she thinks maybe it's still too early for that.

She leans up against the wall and watches him, talking all the while.  "Maybe you could come to a meal sometimes?  It's just -- I miss you bein' with us.  We all do.  You wouldn't have to talk or nothin'.  Just be there."  Of course, he doesn't answer, and so she talks for a while about little things.  The engine. The fuel stores.  She tells him about the job the captain found, an easy thing. 

He doesn't look at her.

Finally, she figures she's bugged him enough, so she says 'bye, and heads out the room.  When she gets to the door, she stops with a thought.  "Hey, Wash.  If you want, you can trade bunks with me.  If you want."

She hears a faint sigh, the first sound that's come from him in what seems like forever.  It makes her turn and walk back to him.   "If you could sleep right, maybe you'd feel a little better."

Wash looks up at her, his face bleak.  When he speaks, his voice is rough.  "Zoe used to say if we had a daughter, she hoped she'd be as sweet and clever as you."

A lump forms in Kaylee's throat, and she feels her eyes start to tear up.

"I agreed.  Hell, I figured maybe having you around would offset Jayne influencing the kid too much."

She tries to crack a smile. "I'm sorry."

He nods.  "Me too."

Kaylee reaches out to hold Wash's hand.  His grip is tight, it hurts, but she can take it.  They stay there like that, silent for a long while, until Kaylee asks again, "You want to trade bunks?"

He shakes his head, slow, like he's under water.  "No.  But thanks."

She thinks that's maybe a good sign. That one day, he'll feel ready to go back there. They look at each other for a few minutes, and then she leaves him with his thoughts.

Pairings: None, really.  Simon/m mentioned, but more of a gen story.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Deathfic
Disclaimers:  I have no claim on the characters of Firefly or all associated Firefly universe aspects.

Summary:  What about those who are left behind?

Notes:  I started thinking about how different people might be affected if a member of the crew died. This story explores that theme through each of the characters. The story is less about death itself than about how people react to the news of death. It's also set up as possibilities in different future universes, not all in the same timeline or whatever.

Thanks so much to Rachel, Shan and Unovis for betaing versions of this. Also, thank you to everyone who responded to my request for a beta for this story.

Unovis was kind enough to indulge me.  She beta read this story, and I'm intensely grateful.

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