Summery: Ariel AU. Simon gets left behind.
This is, in fact, sort of a Rayne story. But not exactly. *innocent smile*
Massive thanks to michmak for the beta. She who keeps me from comma abuse.
Lovingly dedicated to literarylemming, without whom this would not exist. She is responsible for feeding the bunny. All credit (and blame for the crack) goes to her. Im just the messenger.
The girl flinched back against Jayne in confusion. “My name is Birdy,” she corrected him, glancing nervously over her shoulder. She offered the plant again.
Simon did not seem to hear her. He came towards her, hands outstretched, “River, mei mei, come away from him.” His voice was very intent.
Her hands holding the plant wavered, the shy smile dropping from her face.
The rest of the crew was still frozen; staring at the girl.
She looked around uneasily, edging away from Simon, who was getting a little too close for her comfort.
“River,” Simon said, a little too calmly, one hand reaching for her. “I want you to come with me.”
Jayne stirred, hand tightening on the girl’s shoulder protectively. “This ain’t River, Doc.”
“I’m Birdy,” she insisted, her face twisting with anxiety.
“No, you aren’t!” Simon growled in frustration. “You’re RIVER!”
Mal finally got his legs back under control. “I’m thinking we all need to calm down.” He stood up and tried to push Simon back a step.
“Don’t you protect him, Mal,” Simon hissed. “He lied!” Simon pointed an accusing finger at the mercenary. “He said River was dead!”
“River is dead,” interjected Jayne. “Told you that a couple of times now.” He pulled the girl back against his chest protectively.
Simon was seething, his blue-black eyes darting back and forth between the frightened girl and the scowling mercenary, as if unsure where to focus his full attention. Jayne, for his part, was staring down the doctor with eyes like searchlights, warning him off.
And River... Birdy... The terrified girl trapped between them just kept trying to grow smaller and smaller, pressing herself deeper into Jayne's protective embrace, brown eyes growing bigger by the second.
Her hand was trembling as she gripped her housewarming plant against her belly and reached back with her spare hand to curl her fingers in the material of Jayne's pant leg. She looked as though she'd gladly turn around and climb into his body like a cave if it meant she could get away from the prying eyes and overpowering voices of the rest of the crew.
“It sure looks like River.”
“Mei mei, please.”
“Did he say she was his wife?”
Squeezing her eyes shut, the girl whimpered and turned to bury her face in Jayne's chest, cuddling the plant up under her chin like a teddy bear.
Jayne's arm immediately wound around her shoulders in a possessive hug. "Everyone shut up!" he barked. "Ain't you seeing how scared she is?"
"Take me home, Jayne," a small voice whispered urgently against his chest.
"Can't, ladybird," the large man murmured into her hair, eyes watching the others intently.
"Wanna go home."
"I know you do." He swept his fingers through her short-cropped hair. "I'm sorry. I wish I ain't never had to bring you here."
Seeing Jayne lay hands on his sister was the end for Simon "You son of a whore!" he snarled, shoving Mal aside in an effort to get to the mercenary. "She's my sister! You have no right to keep her away from me!"
Jayne pinned him with a glare that would have torn another man to ribbons and clutched the girl tighter against his chest. "She ain't your sister! Your sister's dead!"
"Buried with her boots on," Birdy’s little voice whispered, eyes shut tight as tears leaked out onto Jayne’s chest. “Gotta walk soft.
"Look what he's done to her!" Simon cried in anguish, appealing to the room at large. "See what he's done? He's brainwashed her! Taken advantage of her diminished mental capacity and made her think she was his wife!" The way he said that final word made it come out sounding like "whore."
Jayne's eyes narrowed and the room went from pleasantly warm to glacial. "She is my wife," he snarled, clutching her tighter. "She's my Birdy."
"Ladybird," she whispered against his chest.
"Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home..." Her fingers were clenched in his shirt, and her voice was trembling.
"You are home, River," Simon said, breathing heavily through his nose as his heart surged in his chest. "You're home now. Come away from that monster. He's not going to use you anymore." He lunged, catching her elbow in his hand and trying to pull her out of Jayne’s embrace.
The girl screamed. Not a soft shriek of fright; a wail of pure terror that seemed to pull up from the soles of her feet before exploding through her teeth. She jerked away from Simon's hand as though it burned, the action jarring the plant from her arms and sending it crashing to the floor in a spray of earth and pottery.
Any response Simon might have had was cut off by the force of the mercenary's fist connecting with his mouth. "Look what you done!" Jayne bellowed as Simon stumbled backward, blood pouring down his chin. "Don't you touch her! Don't nobody touch her but me!" He shoved the frightened girl behind him and glared around, daring anyone to come near her.
"Everybody calm the hell down!" Mal roared, trying to lay hands on Simon before the doctor could do something stupid like try to fight back and get himself snapped in half. "Cool off!"
No such luck.
"Get your hands off my sister, you lewd piece of pedophilic garbage!" Simon shouted, shrugging off the captain's restraining hands. The fact he was cursing Jayne in English rather than Mandarin had to mean something: that either that his brain was burning too hot too translate, or he wanted to make sure the larger man understood every word he was saying. "Get your disgusting hands off of her NOW!"
He threw himself at the mercenary, and the two stumbled backward to crash into the wall – barely missing the frightened girl cringing against it.
Kaylee shrieked as the pair began to fight in earnest. Jayne was without a doubt the stronger of the two, but Simon's years moonlighting as one of Serenity's heavies had finally taught him a little something about fighting dirty, and he was landing a few good punches of his own.
The tussle rocked to the side as Simon landed a solid punch to Jayne's gut, sending the mercenary stumbling to land on his back on the tabletop. The doctor stalked towards him, only to get a booted foot to the chin as Jayne kicked up and sent him reeling backward, fighting to keep his footing.
There was an organic sound, like the grinding of teeth.
Birdy let out a strangled cry of loss.
Everyone froze, all eyes swiveling to face the sobbing girl as she dropped to her knees beside the shattered remnants of her clay pot, shaking fingers trying to scoop the scattered soil back into the largest shard of earthenware. She cooed soft, tearful words of reassurance to the tattered flower that lay amidst the mess, its petals smeared and torn where Simon's boot heel had crushed it into the floor.
Tears licked down her face and her breath came in wet hiccups as she sobbed, "Theodore... My pretty, pretty Theodore...Should've let you stay home safe...”
Jayne wrenched himself up from the table and threw himself past the startled doctor. “Aw, hell,” he sighed, taking in the destruction. He knelt beside her, large hands reaching to help, but she struck out at him.
“Don’t touch!” she sobbed, clutching ceramic shards to her chest. “Grave digging, standing vigil.” She scrabbled in the dirt desperately. “Oh, Jayne,” she moaned, holding her hands out beseechingly, “It’s broken.” She raised her dirty, tear streaked face to him.
“I know, bao bai,” he said sadly, tucking her hair behind her ear.
The rest of the crew wasn’t moving. Even Simon seemed to have been shocked into silence by the heartbreak on Birdy’s face.
“Just wanted to be safe,” she mourned. “Just wanted to be planted, warm sun, and love.” She pressed her face into Jayne’s chest, dirt covered hands inching under the sleeves of his t-shirt to press into his skin.
He cradled her, whispering into her hair as tears slipped down her face into his shirt.
Simon twitched, mouth twisting with revulsion and seemed to be about to say something. Kaylee shook her head at him hard, her face angry and disapproving. It was an intensely private moment between Jayne and the girl, and Mal couldn’t shake the feeling that he and the others were intruding. It was very strange seeing Jayne so gentle. Especially with River. Or whoever she was.
Birdy was still crying, but she wasn’t shaking anymore. Jayne turned her palms up in his hands. “You’re bleeding, Ladybird.” He blew softly into her cupped hands. “Let’s get you cleaned up, alright?”
He lifted her carefully to her feet, where she immediately hid her face in his side.
He completely ignored the others as he steered the subdued girl around the mess on the floor.
“Theodore,” she whispered, looking up at Jayne with pleading eyes.
“I’ll come back for him,” he promised quietly, tracing her jaw line with one finger. “I gotta take care of my girl, first.”
She offered him a watery smile, “Your girl will be alright.”
She nodded, slipping her cold hand into his and following him back to the bunk. “I have you,” she said simply.
“Got that, Ladybird,” he promised softly. “Come on, let’s get you patched up.”