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.
Round Up Post Here
“Are you going to let them stay, sir?”
Zoë stood in front of him, arms behind her back, watching him calmly.
“Zoë, I’ve never seen anything quite like that.” Mal paced in agitation, slapping his hand against the wall of the cockpit with every turn. “He wasn’t looking, he wasn’t talking, he was barely moving! It was like he wasn’t even at home in his own head.”
Zoë nodded. “I heard you, sir.” She tilted her head, looking directly at him and repeated her initial question. “Are you going to let them stay?”
“I don’t know,” Mal muttered, shaking his head in confusion. “If it were just River who was crazy, hell, we could deal with that. We have before.”
“Birdy,” Zoë corrected.
“She says her name is Birdy.” Zoë informed him.
Mal stopped mid pace, lip curling in a disbelieving sneer. “Don’t tell me you believe that gos se about River being dead too, do you?”
Zoë shrugged carefully. She had never healed completely from the punctured lung, and would always have some leftover pain. It made for slow moving. “Don’t know. But I know that the girl and Jayne both say she ain’t River.”
Mal snorted and rubbed his face. “And the Doc is absolutely insistent that she is. And she sure does look like River.” He leaned against the bulkhead and scowled absentmindedly out at the black. “And how Jayne is acting just ain’t normal.”
Zoë lowered herself carefully into the pilot’s seat and picked up one of her husband’s dinosaurs. “He did get taken by the Alliance when River did. I can’t even imagine what they might have done to him.”
“I don’t want to imagine what was done to him,” Mal muttered, running a hand through his tousled hair. “They cut River’s brain all to hell, and she was a genius to begin with. Cutting up Jayne’s brain would be stupid. He didn’t have any brain cells to spare.”
“It is very possible that they didn’t do anything to his brain. I don’t think anything could make Jayne a reader. But I conjure that wasn’t what they were trying to do anyway.” Zoë shook her head unhappily.
“Think they was trying to link the two of them? Or was Jayne just a body to poke at and see what happened?” Mal tilted his head quizzically. He sounded uneasy.
“Don’t know, captain, but the very idea makes my spine itch.”
“Mine too. But it still don’t change the facts.” Mal sighed, lacing his hands together behind his head. He scowled out into the black. “We got a hell of a problem, Zoë.”
Zoë nodded in acceptance. “I know, sir.”
“He’s different, Zoë.”
“I know that too, sir. I’ve been watching.” Zoë’s face was composed as her captain took up pacing the length of the cockpit again.
Mal kicked at the bulkhead in frustration. “Gorram it! Finding either of them was amazing and something I never thought would happen. It should’ve been a good thing. It should’ve been happy and dancing and Kaylee being annoyingly cheerful like she used to be. It should’ve been Jayne eating us out of house and home, and Simon running around after River, trying to get her to put shoes on.” The Captain’s voice took on a bitter edge. “Instead, we got Jayne acting like River used to and River insisting she’s dead. Wonderful.” He slumped down into the co-pilot’s chair with a weary scowl.
“We don’t know what happened to the two of them, sir.” Zoë repeated, resting her feet on the edge of the console, worn boots shifting.
Mal sighed. “Yeah, I know.”
“I suggest we hold off judgment,” Zoë told him, twisting the dinosaur in her hands. “They might just need time to settle in before talking about anything.”
Mal nodded. “Yeah, I guess.” He thought for a second. “What if Jayne can’t do the job?”
Zoë looked straight at him. “Then we have to decide if keeping ‘em on board is good or bad for the crew.”
“Jayne ain’t crew?” Mal asked quietly, watching her face closely.
“I don’t know, Mal. I wish I did.”
They both turned to stare out into the black for a few seconds.
“It wouldn’t be easy, letting them go,” Mal finally said. “Kaylee would have herself a crying fit, and its likely Inara wouldn’t speak to me again.” He paused for a second, face twisting into a tired frown, “Plus, I gotta say, I have no idea how the Doc would react to that.”
Zoë nodded in agreement, blowing her lips out in a sigh. “But if they’re a danger to the crew, should we even have them on board?”
Mal shook his head and shrugged. “Hell, we kept River on board for a while, and she sliced Jayne open at one point.”
Zoë’s mouth twitched. “True, but I think Jayne might be likely to do more damage than River ever could. And he’d be a hell of a lot harder to take down.”
Mal nodded unhappily. “I’ll see if I can’t talk Simon into making up some strong tranqs, just in case.” He rested his head in his hands for a moment, rubbing his temples tiredly. “And if we gotta take Jayne down, I’m pretty sure we’d have to take River or Birdy or whoever the hell she is down too.”
“So they’re staying?”
Mal just looked at her, face unhappy. “I need some time to think about it.”
Zoë nodded and pushed herself slowly to her feet, letting her hand rest on the Captain’s shoulder for a moment. “It’ll work itself out, Mal.” She squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. “It always does.”
Mal’s only response was a slow nod.
END PART 16