It starts while he's with the local whore. The day had gone real good, them having delivered the genseed they'd knocked off from an Alliance storage sub-station. The plan, the cargo, the money: it had been a good job all round. Wash said he figured they hadn't been seen or followed, and now Jayne had a heavy pocket full of coin.
After a celebratory drink with Mal, Zoe, Wash, and hell, even Simon, Jayne had wandered in the direction of the woman giving him the eye. They'd gone up to her room above the bar and she'd stripped down all sexy-like, grinning at him the entire time. Her dress--something fancy and shiny, tight against all the right parts--had slid right down her hips as she'd moved in a way that made Jayne's mouth go dry. He'd shucked his clothes as fast as possible, and then she had pushed him down to the bed.
She hadn't just settled herself on top of him and gotten down to business. Instead, she'd gone slow, her feet first sliding along his legs and the rest of her body teasing him. She'd done little things, things whores didn't usually do--cupping his shoulders and licking his earlobe; rubbing his feet and kissing his bellybutton--that made him wonder if this is what Inara did with her customers. And then, after straddling his chest and bending so he could suck her nipples, she'd wiggled down to between his legs, and just sucked him right in.
He hears the first noises while her mouth works him, but he doesn't pay much attention. She's too damn good, not twitching or gagging as he pushes her head down a little further and holds her still for a few seconds. When he lets up, she takes a deep breath and then takes the hint about what he wants.
The noises get louder, more pressing, but he brushes them off, concentrating on her warm mouth, sharp little teeth, and deciding he'll renegotiate with her for the whole night, not just an hour.
He's real close--almost finished--when gunshots start joining the crashes downstairs. They're enough to make him half sit up but, being good at her job, she just moves with him and keeps sucking. It ain't like this bar is a stranger to gunfights, anyway. Teeth scrape him lightly, and he starts to come, one hand still tangled in her hair.
It's as she's swallowing that the gunshots change to something more high tech. She pulls away real fast and looking at the door, says, "Shit."
He's already standing. "Sounds like Alliance tech."
Nodding, she stands and hands him his pants. "We don't got a base on planet. Ain't no reason for them to be here tonight, just to break up what sounded like a bar fight."
Ah, hell. Fastening his pants, he says, "Guns." She hands them to him, cool as you please. He's pulling on his boots when heavy footsteps approached the door. He isn't exactly surprised when the door is kicked open by a couple of Feds.
"Drop your weapons."
He looks them over and it's tempting to just start firing. Hell, if he had Vera with him, he woulda just shot right through the door before they'd kicked it down. As it is, he drops the weapons belt and scowls.
The Feds look him and the whore up and down with disgust and tell her to get some clothes on.*
They end up downstairs, him still just wearing pants and boots and missing his guns, her in that slinky little dress and no shoes. Her hair was pulled back, and she looked real angry.
The bar's full of soldiers and customers and the place is shot to shit. There're men bleeding on the floor but as far as he can see, they ain't dead. Still, looks like it was one of the worst damn barfights ever.
The windows and doors are all covered by soldiers and Jayne knows he ain't getting out until he's told he can go.
He can't see Mal or the rest of them, but he's pretty damn sure whatever the hell was going on had something to do with Serenity.
At the head of the room, some tight-assed Fed is in control, interviewing people. Jayne can't hear what about, but he knows it'll be his turn soon enough. It's a damn boring wait though, so he starts talking to the whore.
"You were real good. Was thinking of makin' a night of it."
She nods. "Wish I was gettin' paid by these bastards, seein' as how they screwed me tonight."
His laugh is loud and people turn to look at them. "You ever think of companionin'?"
Snorting, she shakes her head. "Guild don't take low-borns like me."
"We got somethin' in common. Couldn't get a Companion to breathe on me."
Her laugh is quieter than his and bitter. "Rich folk." She spits at the floor, but it lands on the boot of the Fed walking towards them.
Hell. His mouth twitches.
The Fed looks disgusted but unsurprised. Hoisting his gun, he says, "You two, you're next," and leads them up to be interviewed. For once, Jayne wishes he'd paid attention when Mal talked about Alliance, 'cause then he'd maybe be able to figure out the rank of the Fed who'll be asking the questions.
She's kind of pretty, for a Fed. Dressed up, she'd maybe give Inara some competition. Jayne doubts this woman--whatever her rank--can out-shoot Zoe, though. She's got that look on face that Feds wear around Jayne's type. It's a look that makes Jayne want to punch something.
The whore gets spoken to first. "Name?"
Alice sneers. "What the hell does it look like? Dressmaker?"
The Fed sighs. "Do you know anything of wanted fugitives in the area?"
"Nope. I sure know how to make a man yowl, though."
There's a long pause and then the Fed nods at an underling, and Alice gets pulled away. It's Jayne's turn.
"And you are?"
She raises an eyebrow and looks at her notes. "My men tell me you were rather well-armed, for an odd job man."
He shrugs. "You seen this place. You sayin' you'd walk in here without a gun or two?"
"So you don't work here?"
"Please explain the significance of your presence."
Ruttin' fancy-ass language. Like that makes them better. If he's gonna be asked questions and kept from a night with the first decent whore he's had since the brothel job, he might as well get his fun here. "Hell, I didn't bring no presents. This ain't no social call. I just brought some coin."
She sighs and asks, "What are you doing here tonight?" Her words are slow and deliberate, like he can't follow her meaning. Her expression clearly she thinks he's got nothing upstairs. He's seen that kind of look before; mostly from the doc, sometimes from Mal and Zoe.
Glancing over at Alice, who's now talking to what looks to be a bartender, Jayne smirks. "Gettin' a dress made." From the look on her face, he figures the Fed would shoot him if she could. "Can't say I'm real happy about gettin' interrupted, neither." He moves forward and leans down on the table she's sitting behind. "Now I ain't gonna have nothin' to wear to the ball."
She ignores the bait. "We're looking for some fugitives. One was maybe seen here."
Shit. He knew it. Grinning, he stands up straight again. "Nope."
"Have you seen a Firefly land here recently?" She asks it real casual-like.
"We ain't got insects here."
"A Firefly class ship."
He shakes his head.
Sighing, she asks another question, clearly a last-ditch effort. "Have you ever heard of a Dr. Simon Tam?"
"Do I look like I'm friendly with any doctors?" It ain't like he's lying. Hell, even at the best of times he can't hardly stand the doc.
"You don't look like you're friendly with anyone."
"Ain't you real smart."
She stares at him hard for a few minutes, but if she figures that's gonna get him to talk, she don't know squat. He just crosses his arms and stares right back until she shakes her head, frowning.
"We're done here." With that, she dismisses him, and he wanders away.
He sets himself up comfortable, leaning against a wall and watching the Feds. After they talk to a few more people, he moves a little closer so's he can hear what they're saying. It ain't interesting, not for a long while. Then the Fed in charge stands up and walks over to her second. Jayne inches closer.
The Fed is rubbing her eyes, like she's got a headache. "Nothing, aside from some attitude."
"So, what now?"
She frowns. "Now nothing. We were tipped off that he was here, but we wasted time breaking up the fight. If he was here, he's gone now."
Ah, hell. He don't like the sound of that.
"Did any ships leave or try to leave while we were busy?"
The second nods. "A ship belonging to a Companion. She started making noises about missing appointments and notifying the Guild." There's a little pause. "The higher-ups don't want to disgruntle the Guild."
Jayne grunts. It gets worse and worse. Ain't much hope that Mal and the others waited for him.
The Fed is looking around the bar. "Let's get out of this place. It's making my skin crawl."
Her second snorts. "Border towns."
"We're wasting our time out here. They don't want what we have to offer."
It sounds to Jayne like an old conversation, one the Fed and her men have had before.
"Don't let command hear you say that." The second is smiling a little. Jayne listens for a bit longer and he figures that the Feds didn't come here specifically looking for Simon. They were nearby, scouting out ground for a possible base. It was just bad luck they got tipped off, but it's the kind of luck Simon brings to them all the time. The kind that lets him still get away, even if other people's nights are ruined. Jayne wonders if the Feds will bother with a base now that the locals ain't so endeared to them.
The Fed is still frowning. "Get the men; we'll head out. Give back their weapons. Maybe our lives will be easier if the whole damn moon shoots itself to hell."
Jayne stands in line to get his guns, then hurries out to the space dock. Sure enough, Serenity's gone, nothing left behind but the empty crates Jayne tossed out this morning. Hell.
He heads back to the bar, thinking that when he next sees Mal, he's gonna kick some ass. Gorram bastard. It's a good thing he didn't spend all his coin with the whore after all. He'll need a place to stay for a while, and food. Ammo. Beer.
They better not make him wait long. And he's gonna keep a tally of what Mal owes him.*
Two days in, he realises he'll need to find some work. The money's running out fast and there's nothing to do on the rock that doesn't need paying for first.
Town's called Plenty but as far as Jayne can tell, the question to be asking is 'Plenty of what?' Things are tight for almost everyone here. There ain't much work, even with the thriving smuggling trade. Even farm work is scarce, the season having started late and the rains failing to come. He's not the only one looking for a job.
Still, he's bigger than the people here and that makes him a better hire. Most of the men and women looking for work are kinda scrawny and some of them are starting to look a little hollow around the cheeks. It makes him wonder if the Feds are going to come in with relief, if things get much worse.
Probably not. More like they'll just leave people to their own devices.
He gets a job as a bouncer in the bar. Turns out the guy who usually had the job got shot up in the fight, and he ain't up for much more than groaning about the pain right now. The pay ain't good, just barely enough to keep him in a crappy little room. The job includes food though, so it could be worse.
It's dull, but keeps him alert. There's no use in getting sloppy while waiting for the others to get back.
Two weeks in, though, he starts to wonder if they will. Then the Feds come back and set up a base after all. The official word is that they're there to monitor the farming situation and offer relief when and if it becomes necessary. Maybe he's been spending too much time with Mal, but Jayne's pretty sure that ain't the case.
He doubts they figure that Simon will come back. There's some other reason for them setting up a base. He don't really care what that reason is, but he cares that it means Mal won't be picking him up any time soon.*
Later, when he thinks about it, he remembers it as starting slow. First, he just took care of a couple troublemakers in the bar. He figured he'd best do the job good, give the owner incentive to keep him on when his regular man got over his gunshot.
So, he does the job well. Conscientious, Mal would say. Just like Jayne was after Ariel; sticking to the rules to keep the job.
He breaks up bar fights, breaks a few faces too. It's fun work and he gets praise for it. The bar owner is real interested in not having to replace tables and chairs every few nights, especially after the Feds shot the place up.
Then one night a couple of mercs set up a ruckus among the whores. The whores in town are independent, but mostly they rent rooms above the bar. He doesn't much care what they do or what kind of trouble they get into, but the owner of the bar, Mr. Winters, he don't want to lose the rent income if the whores up and leave. That means Jayne's supposed to keep watch and break up anything that looks to get out of control.
That night, one girl stumbles down to the bar, her face all messed up and bloody. It's hard to understand what the hell she's saying, what with her split lip, but it's enough for Jayne to head upstairs and check things out.
After he'd broken a couple of arms and thrown the mercs out into the street, the rest of the whores swarm around him, acting like he's some kind of hero. It gives him the same kind of uncomfortableness he felt after the mudder mess, and he tries to tell them his actions hadn't been anything personal. They were just part of the job. He isn't their hero. He's just trying to keep good with the boss.
They ignore his words. In the end, it ain't a bad thing. That night, Alice and her friend Jacob Rao get him singing-drunk and take him to bed for free. He wakes up the next afternoon with one hell of a headache, but they chase that away good.
There turn out to be advantages to the local whores seeing a man as a hero. Aside from the free sex, there are other good things. The town is small and the whores aren't just workers set apart from the rest of the townspeople. They're mothers and sisters and brothers, some own property, and they have their own kind of influence.
The whores like him, especially Alice, who sometimes spends the whole night in his bed. The bar owner likes him. Pretty soon, most of the town likes him. He doesn't make friends so much, not that he wants to, but he stops getting cheated when he buys supplies.
He gets brought home-cooked meals sometimes, when women are happy he stopped this husband or that brother getting his head smashed in by some merc looking for trouble. People smile at him on the street, or at least nod in a friendly fashion, instead of looking away. It's almost like he's getting respectable, at least to these townsfolk.
It's weird and Mal wouldn't have believed it. Still, Jayne takes what he can get.*
Sometimes, after sex, Alice likes to talk. It annoys Jayne 'cause he always just wants to sleep, but there is no use in brushing off the girl's questions. He wants to keep her good feelings towards him, 'cause he doesn't get paid enough to do her this often at her regular rates. Anyway, sometimes it's fun to tell her stories about old jobs.
Still, he likes to sleep after sex and so he changes the talking part to before instead of after.
He drinks, she asks questions, he answers, and after a while, she starts putting her little hand in all manner of places. They always end up in her small room after a night of working and after they'd both cleaned up a little.
Tonight, he's on her bed, leaning against the wall, and her head is against his thigh. Weird, but he let her be.
"Do you miss 'em?"
Drinking from the glass, he shrugs. "Can't say."
"You're waitin' for 'em though."
This time he nods.
"D'you like bein' in space? All that emptiness around you?" She looks a little unsettled, the way some landfolk do. He thinks maybe he looked a little like that, first time he signed onto a ship.
"Don't care one way or another. Long as there's a decent mechanic and I got my own bunk, one place is as good as any other."
"You'll go back to your old ship when they come and get you."
He looks down at her suspiciously, wondering if she's gotten it into her head, against all sense, to get attached. As far as he can tell though, it's just a statement. She ain't givin him none of them sappy, sad looks like he'd seen on Kaylee's face when there was talk of Simon leaving.
Alice knows better than to get all starry-eyed, especially over a man like Jayne. He nods at her and grins when she asks to hear the story about the mudders. She likes the song the best, and once, on a night off, taught it to some of the others: whores, customers, bar folk.*
The town got word that the Magistrate's daughter had been stolen. The Magistrate lived in the capital of the moon, rarely bothering with the lives and concerns of the folk in the outlying towns. Nobody Jayne knows has good or bad things to say about the man. They did enjoy a good laugh about how the man's personal forces had been less than successful.
Jayne shrugs off the news and applies himself to breaking up a fight over what looks to be a nice little gun. The men--smugglers, from the look of them, and not like to be around for more than a few days--get told they ain't welcome back, and Jayne pockets the gun. The job ain't much, but it has its advantages. When the ruckus is over, he thinks about the girl and figures the Feds will find her.
Later that night, after four fights and a hell of a squabble between one of the whores and a customer, he hears the Feds turned the job down. The Magistrate isn't real well-liked by them, having maybe leaned a little too close to the Independent side during the war. And anyhow, he hears, the Feds ain't there to chase after random folk who probably just want a ransom. That's for local forces, they said.
By the time it's near to closing, there's been lots of talk about the Feds' attitude. People recalled the disruptions from months before and cursed the new base, remembering how Tommy Dolan had got himself crushed while helping with its construction.
Tommy had been popular around town. Storekeepers, barkeeps, mechanics, even the whores, they'd all liked him. Hell, even Jayne had thought the boy wasn't too annoying. Gorram Alliance. They had the fancy tech, but from what Jayne heard, they'd been right cheap with construction costs.
There's some sympathy now for the Magistrate. Near as Jayne can figure, this is fueled partially by the beer people had been drinking now for hours. The booze makes them see the Magistrate as just another guy screwed by the Alliance. He shakes his head at that. Magistrate's still rich. Jayne doesn't right care if the man is missing his daughter.
What he does care about is that there's a reward for the girl.
Last word was that she and the men who had her had headed out to the desert. Jayne figures there's ship hiding there. If not, then the kidnappers're crazier in the head than River on a bad day.
He also figures he could track through desert. Ain't hard if a body knows what to look for. And hell, he knows better than most.
When the sun comes close to rising and the bar shuts down for the day, Jayne heads to his little room and gets together the weapons he had. Looking over the meager supplies, he briefly mourns the supplies still on Serenity. Vera would be useful right about now, and he had some perfectly balanced throwing knives that would come in handy.
He takes his new gun and it turns out that she's a real smooth shot. Worth fighting over.*
He brings back the girl. She was a right mess when he found her and just about screamed her head off when he killed the men holding her. Her mind wasn't all there, he could tell that from looking at her eyes, but he figured it wasn't for good. She'd be fine when she got back to her daddy's. He tried to tell her that, but she shrank away, disgust and fear on her face.
It had made him look down at himself. His clothes were dirty and he knew his face was, too. A day in the desert on top of a night breaking up fights meant he weren't exactly pretty. She'd screamed so much when he tried to get close to her that he'd thought he'd have to pistol whip her just to shut her up. In the end, she screamed herself out. Grateful for the silence, Jayne gave her some water, hoisted her up on his shoulder, and started back to the town.
He'd dropped her after a while and told her to move her own self.
He gets the reward. It's not enough to get off the moon, but he doesn't want to go anyway. Mal has to be able to find him, else he'll never get Vera and the others back.
Even better than the reward, he gets another job offer. He imagines the look that Mal would have on his face and says, sure, he'd take the job as deputy sheriff back in Plenty. Then him and the Magistrate have a little talk.
"There's some things we don't pay too much attention to, on this moon," the Magistrate says, giving Jayne a look Mal would call 'significant.'
Jayne gets it. The moon might be agricultural in name, but most folk--including the Magistrate--make part of their living off the smugglers and their trade. This part is real important, now that the harvests are failing more regular. No one wants the smuggling to end any time soon, even with the Feds sometimes making suspicious noises.
"If certain--areas--of the government wish to make arrests and track illegal doings, then let them." He pauses. "I trust you to use discretion when deciding which problems to address."
Jayne nearly laughs in the man's face. Discretion. Mal would be choking right now and Wash too, probably. He can imagine how later, over dinner, Wash would tell the others about the oddness of someone expecting Jayne to be discrete. They would laugh, some trying to hide it, others not. He brushes the thoughts away and nods.
"I'd think most of your time would be spent quieting local quarrels and chasing fugitives when necessary."
'When necessary' means 'almost never.' They both know it's a job in name more than anything else. The Sheriff is more interested in the health of his cows than keeping the local law, and the town hasn't had a deputy sheriff since before the last one up and joined the Independents and didn't come back. He'd been Alice's brother.
At the end, the Magistrate smiles and shakes his hand, and Jayne pretends he doesn't see the man wipe that same hand on his pants after.
He doesn't see the girl--she had some rich, stupid name like Crystal or Jasmine--again, but he didn't expect to.*
Things don't change too much with the new job. It means more cash--legit and otherwise--and more nervous smiles sent his way. But most nights, he still finds himself busting heads in the bar.
He moves into a better room.
He gets to track them who've pissed off and cheated the locals now and then, and he even pulls in a 'fugie from a neighbouring moon.
The rains come and with it, a decent harvest. People start to fill out a little and smile more.
He still wakes up with Alice pretty regular, even if there are plenty of other options.
The Alliance base gets bigger. More troops come, and Jayne sees them more and more every day. Nobody knows why, but Jayne remembers Mal and Zoe talking about Reavers maybe pushing out this way. They'd almost not taken the genseed job because of it, but then, they'd needed the money.
He doesn't think too much on it--beyond making sure his guns are always in good shape--until he starts hearing stories of a couple crews going out to claim drifting ships and not coming back. Then he starts thinking about signing on with a new ship, just in case.
But the ships are always luhsuh, with crews whose teeth aren't the only things missing. He never gets offered more than seven percent and nobody, he gets told, has his own bunk.
He stays on the moon.
Alice stops working in the upstairs rooms and starts working behind the bar instead. She stops asking him for his money, but she doesn't stop asking him questions.*
"Where's the fanciest place you ever been?"
They're in his room, 'cause the place she's sharing ain't got much privacy. "Ariel."
Her eyes widen a little, just like Kaylee's did when they landed on the rutting planet. "Did you see much?'
He'd seen plenty, out getting the uniforms and ident cards that Simon had wanted. Tall buildings, so tall his neck hurt as he stood looking up at them. Fancy tech, stuff that little Kaylee would've loved to take apart and make work better. Rich folk, stepping around him like he was a particularly unpleasant stain.
The Core. Even thinking the words makes him feel weird inside. It's the same feeling he always got when looking at the airlock, after that one time.
"I'd pay good money to see a Core planet." Her voice is kind of dreamy, not the way she usually talks. Women. He snorts a little. Fancy dreams and pretty pictures get in their heads and they get all sentimental and soft. It's annoying and he remembers her spitting on the Fed's boot. It makes him laugh; she'd be no good in the Core.
He thinks about screwing up on Ariel, getting stupid about the money. He's got memories of screams and River so scared he could almost smell it. Pain in the ass gorram girl, but when she started running from the screams, he'd almost felt something for her. He wonders if the Feds have got her and Simon yet; if Mal and Zoe and little Kaylee died screaming. "Not me. Couldn't pay me enough money to get near that place again."*
He has a run-in with the Feds one day, a few weeks after he'd been made deputy. He's walking through the town, pretending like he has something to do, when three Feds march up to him. He tries not to show his surprise when he recognises the head Fed from the bar fight that got him stranded.
He wonders if she recognises him.
"I've been looking for you." She doesn't smile, but gives him an impatient, businesslike look.
"Shiny." He might be the local law, but that doesn't mean he has to pretend he gives a shit about what the Alliance wants.
She pulls out a reader and punches up a report. Flashing it at him, she says, "A nearby substation has reported the theft of a considerable amount of protein-vitamin bars and the medical emergency kits that we provide settlers headed to newly terraformed planets."
"Huh. That's a real shame." He grins a little, wondering if maybe Mal had been behind that job. It's exactly the kind of thing he liked to pull, once in a while.
She ignores his smile. "It is indeed. I think it would be a greater shame if we were to find that local townsfolk were complicit in the smuggling of these goods. The Alliance takes a dim view of our supplies being redirected for black market profit." Her eyebrow twitches slightly. "I am willing to overlook the petty smuggling of inferior goods. I have no interest if someone ships untariffed livestock or other supplies through this town. The Alliance does not have the time or resources to track down every consumable item that passes through here. We have larger worries."
He wants to ask if those worries include Reavers, but she wouldn't answer. She'd probably laugh in his face, scoff at the stories.
She seems to be expecting words from him, so he just folds his arms over his chest and stares at her. Eventually, she continues,
"However, if I find that these stolen supplies are being sold or otherwise distributed in this town, it will be unpleasant for all involved." She pauses briefly. "And for any law enforcement officer who might have been less than diligent in his or her duty."
She must hate being stationed on this moon, if she's looking so hard for a reason to mess it up. "Huh." Jayne doubts those supplies will show up anywhere close to Plenty. Any smuggler worth his cut knows better than to fence something so close to where the job was pulled. He nods at her and hopes she leaves it at that.
Mostly, she does. She looks about ready to leave, but then she says, "You must have been glad to find a job. I'm certain that your position gets you plenty of invitations to the local," there's a pause, "balls."
He almost laughs, remembering their first meeting. He don't like her any more now than he did then, but at least she ain't just a superior attitude.
"I'm sure the job is rewarding too."
Smirking, he takes out a cigar. "I always wanted to uphold the law."
The doubtful, unimpressed look she gives him reminds him of Mal. He can't help but grin a little wider as she turns and walks away.*
Once in a while there's a real crime, something that Jayne has to deal with even if he don't much care about the law. This time it's Lee O'Halloran, who went crazy and killed his neighbour, Billie Xiang. It was over something that Jayne can't quite figure out and when Lee was finished, he ran away into the desert. Don't matter none. Other neighbours saw it happen and Lee's gonna spend a real long time in the Magistrate's work crews when Jayne catches up with him.
Not that Jayne much cares one way or another about the killing itself. Still, Xiang's brother is a bigshot at the docks and he made it clear he'd throw a ruckus if Jayne just let O'Halloran get away with it. So Jayne sets out to bring old Lee to local justice.
Turns out the desert gets him first. Jayne's seen plenty of desert, from the type with a few plants here and there, to the type with nothing for miles and miles. The desert around Plenty ain't the worst he's ever seen. There's little stands of scrubby trees here and there, and some grasses. He's seen dark, scurrying critters dart through the sand and when he catches one, it makes good eating. Still. It ain't hospitable and, three days into tracking O'Halloran, Jayne isn't surprised to find the man dead.
It's stupid, going out to the desert with no water.
Jayne stands over the body and grunts. Hell. What a gorram waste of his time. He figures it'll take two days to get back, a little less time 'cause he won't be screwing around looking for tracks.
He looks down at O'Halloran. Things are already starting to eat up his skin. It's an unlovely sight, but compared to them Reaver victims it ain't nothing special to look at. Still, it's nothing he's dragging back for a burial. Turning his back on the body, Jayne heads back to town.
Two days later and about three miles out of town, he smells the smoke. It's only a few minutes before he sees it, long trails of black and grey coming from the direction of the Alliance base. He can't help but grin as he picks up his pace. As he walks, he tries to figure who might have done the base in. Maybe the Dolans, getting back for Tommy. The thought makes him grin wider.
He stops smiling when, on the outskirts of town, he finds the first body. It's no one he recognises, but he ain't sure he could recognise anyone looking like that. It ain't hard to figure what does that to a person.
Moving off a bit, he sits down and thinks about heading back into the desert. He could survive there for a while and, if not, it'd likely give him a better death. He sits so long that eventually, he sees a large, ugly ship enter the sky. The body behind him nags at him somehow, but he doesn't get up and get moving until hours after that ship flies away.
He gets back to town and finds things he never wanted to see again. There's some wailing, but the rest is eerie, creepifying silence.
There are survivors. People are still alive; some of them probably not for long. He can't decide if he's surprised or not. It makes sense there are lots of hidey places in Plenty, what with the smuggling. He's just surprised the Reavers didn't find them all.
He finds Jacob sitting outside the bar, his eyes blank. His hands are holding something Jayne doesn't want to look too closely at. Soon he figures Jacob will go the way that settler did, back on Serenity. Pulling out his best gun, Jayne makes sure that don't happen.
He walks the town. Some of the survivors didn't see nothing, and Jayne nods at them and moves on. Others gibber and shriek and sometimes come at him with knives or other crappy weapons. These ones he shoots down like the freaks they are. One of them is the Sheriff, and Jayne figures he just got himself a promotion.
Best he can guess is that it was a raiding party. Later, he learns that the Feds got hit the worst, with the capital next. The Reavers might have gone into Plenty, but Jayne guesses they weren't too hungry by the time they got there.*
He organises the burial crew and digs half the graves himself. The townsfolk look at him like he's some kind of wonder, handling the bodies. He wants to tell them that it ain't for noble reasons. He wants off the moon, away from Plenty, and no smuggling ships worth a man of his talent are gonna land if the docks are full of ugly bodies.
Still, even with the bodies squared away, word gets out that Plenty got hit by Reavers. The smuggling trickles almost down to nothing. Jayne finds himself looking at his shiny Sheriff badge and wishing that a ship bigger than an armpit would land at the space docks. He doesn't care about getting only 7 percent and sharing a bunk no more. He just wants the hell off the moon.
The more the people left look at him, like he's some kind of cold-hearted hero for cleaning up the town, the more he thinks he'd pay good money, even all his savings, to get away.
He wonders, sometimes, how Alice might have looked at him now.*
It's been hellishly quiet for near to two months when Mal comes back to get him. The little shuttle is the first ship to land for days, and the locals look at it with some interest and hope. Not much hope, though. The town is drying up and them that could leave already have. Jayne's thought of going himself, but the few ships that landed weren't taking mercs or passengers and there's nothing for him in the capital.
He's sitting at the edge of the space docks, so he sees when Mal comes out of the shuttle. He notes the boxes that he starts to pull out and after a while, he figures maybe he could go over and help.
When he gets there, Mal nods at him and hands him a crate. It ain't heavy, just bulky, and when Jayne asks what's in it, he gets told medicine. The doc had helped them knock off another hospital. There's a buyer coming that's going to arrive soon, just to pick up the cargo and lift back off.
"Most folk ain't too keen on landing here since it got hit by Reavers," Mal says. "Still, some want to fly way under the radar, and this place is perfect for that."
Jayne nods, 'cause there's not much else he can do.
"The Alliance shot a ship out of the sky in the next system. Didn't say they were Reavers officially, but stories are circulating." He smirks. "Some of them fine young Federals can't keep their mouths shut about what they seen."
"Still, it wasn't worth risking the crew. It's just me and Zoe," he gestures inside, "and she's to stay in the cockpit, in case we need a fast exit." There's a pause. "We couldn't come back before, not with the Feds stationed here."
That's as close an apology Mal's ever made to Jayne.
Mal finishes unloading the crates and stands uprights, brushing the dust off his hands. He leans into the shuttle and calls out, "Zoe! It's unloaded. And I found Jayne." The shuttle is hardly huge and Jayne isn't all that surprised to hear Zoe call back, "I heard, sir. And your questionable contacts have just entered orbit."
"That's our questionable contacts, Zoe. Tell 'em we're waiting. Don't sound too friendly about it."
Like Zoe ever would.
They wait for the buyers to land, silent, until Mal turns to Jayne and says, "Things have been a bit rough. We woulda come back sooner, even with the Feds, if things had been a little more smooth in the black."
It's more than Jayne ever expected to hear. He doesn't know what to say, so he shrugs.
"I knew you'd be fine. Anyhow, I heard you'd been going about making yourself a respectable citizen." There's something in Mal's voice that makes Jayne wants to hit him real hard. Something that goes and mostly ruins the earlier half-apology and unexpected words. Mal don't know half of what Jayne did and got and lost while in Plenty.
But then he sees Mal looking around the docks, still kinda burned up from weapons and fire, still mostly empty. Jayne sees Mal looking out to the east, where the bodies are buried and markers are visible. Burying them so close to the docks might not have been the best idea, but at the time, Jayne had wanted the job over fast and so many of the bodies had been in this area.
Mal looks kinda sad, kinda resigned. Maybe he has a better sense of things than Jayne thought. Maybe Jayne could tell him something about later, on the ship, when he's figured out the words to use. Maybe--the sound of a ship coming close interrupts Jayne's train of thought. It don't really matter, thinking too much always got him in trouble anyhow. He pushes the thoughts away.
No use dwelling on the past.
He looks up as the ship starts to descend.
Summary: They better not make him wait long.
Notes: Betas: Stacey & Tara. Thank you both.