The second half
Two very long hours later, Kaylee and Simon walked hand in walked across the fields to her house. They could hear shouts of laughter echoing through the trees from her back yard. Once they slipped through the undergrowth and back to the Frye’s, they saw that Vivi and Inara were laying out supper on tables in the yard, while the crew and Kaylee’s brothers kidded around.
Her two eldest brothers, Mitch and Jefferson Junior, or JJ, both of whom had sandy blonde hair and healthy faces turned brown from the sun, were playing a raucous ball game with Mal and Jayne while Hobie ambled about them, looking very put out that he wasn’t being tossed the ball. Zoë was perched on a low wall beside River, laughing and watching the game. Kaylee’s other two brothers, Kit and Holden, were stringing up lanterns, giving the whole garden a winking, sepia-toned ambiance as daylight faded.
“It’s so beautiful,” Simon marvelled.
“Well we can’t give you the finery of your home back on Osiris, but I think this’ll do!” Kaylee quipped.
“No, Kaylee, this is finery,” Simon insisted sternly, grabbing her hand. “We had parties and get-togethers, sure… but this, this is just welcome and happiness realised. This place is… it’s somewhere I wouldn’t mind settling down in. Somewhere I wouldn’t mind ending my days. Ending them with you.”
Simon had said that with such conviction and clarity that Kaylee was at a complete loss for words. She smiled, feeling shy for the first time in a long time, and looked down. He took her chin and raised her head to meet eyes with him.
“Like your father said Kaylee, when it comes to your life and the lives of the ones you love the most, all that matters is that you do what you have to do. I could have lost you yesterday if you hadn’t have done what you had to do… you might never have known how I truly feel about you Kaylee. I don’t intend for that to continue,” Simon said in a hushed, intense tone. “I love you Kaylee. I love your family, your planet. And I don’t care if I have no home on Osiris. I don’t care if my parents have disowned me. I don’t care that I travel around constantly. Because I’ve found home Kaylee. You are my home.”
Kaylee burst into tears and started laughing at the same time. She threw her arms around Simon’s neck and latched her legs around his waist. The attention of most everyone in the garden was now focused on them.
“What’s this?” Vivi asked.
“Methinks our Kaylee done got herself engaged,” Mitch teased.
“No,” River murmured. “Better than that.”
Kaylee pulled away from Simon, and they moved into the middle garden. “No, we didn’t get engaged! I’m just happy. So happy. Ya’ll in this yard are the most important people in my whole life,” she said happily.
“Oh darlin’…” Vivi smiled at Jefferson fondly and then back at her daughter.
“And us on Serenity, we’ve seen some bad days,” Kaylee said, her gaze sweeping over Zoë and River especially. “And there’s probably more bad days ahead, but it’s good to know we got somewhere we can go at the end o’ the day. Somewhere like this.” She looked at her parents. “And this crew I got ‘round me, they’re… they’re just shiny. Best in the ‘verse.”
Mal, clutching the basketball under his arm, brushed away an imaginary tear. “I’m okay! Somethin’ in my eye!” he called out in a breaking, shaky voice, and turned away, theatrically suppressing a sob.
Inara rolled her eyes at Mal’s display, and smiled widely at Kaylee, her own eyes shining. Kaylee’s passel of brothers crowed and jeered as Simon swept Kaylee up in a kiss, and Kaylee’s pa followed suit with Vivi.
Jayne, who had Hobie perched on his shoulders, took the opportunity to grab the ball from Mal and hand it up to the toddler. Hobie triumphantly scored a basket with Jayne’s added height, and went wild with delight, his cheers rising over even Kaylee’s brothers’. Zoë laughed and hopped off of the wall, swinging Hobie down from Jayne’s shoulders and congratulating him. Her own emotion had been swelling in her throat, but she swapped her sorrow for joy as she laughed with her son.
Jayne caught River’s gaze, those eyes of hers liquid as water and just as easy to drown in.
A slow smile pulled at the side of River’s mouth. “Best in the ‘verse…”
JJ went around the house when a mule was heard powering down in front of the Frye homestead. Kaylee went to help her mother and Inara finish setting out supper, while Zoë and Hobie fought Mal and Mitch for the ball. The mother and her son seemed to be winning. Jayne walked across the yard to River, who was staring at the lantern Simon was helping Holden to hang.
“Bright. Glowing. Like a firefly,” she murmured, staring into the lamp’s light.
“Guess it is,” Jayne affirmed, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her head.
“You’re sweaty,” River stated.
“But it’s manly, attractive sweat,” Jayne said.
“Now that’s a contradiction,” Simon snorted.
He almost dropped the lantern he was hanging when Kaylee’s shrill, excited shriek echoed across the garden. JJ had arrived back from the front drive with a few visitors. Kaylee dashed across the garden and threw herself into one of the newcomer’s arms.
“Little Kaylee! Meadow’s been missin’ its brightest star since the black gained a new one,” Joe Mason whispered in her ear.
Kaylee smiled up at Joe, her eyes filling up again with yet more tears of happiness. “Joe, I’m so glad you came.”
“How could I not?” the handsome blonde mechanic said teasingly. “Kaylee Frye comes back from the black after years away? I had to come see you!”
“You look damn good William Joseph Mason,” Kaylee laughed.
“Why thank you Kaywinnet Lee Frye!” he returned with a snort.
Kaylee looked to their second visitor. “And you! Let me see you Darlene Mason! Momma told me you were expectin’! How you been?” she exclaimed, taking the brunette into her excited embrace.
Darlene laughed as Kaylee squeezed her. “The heat ain’t helpin’ none, but the midwife says I should be birthin’ Joe a son any day now!” she replied.
Kaylee stood back, looking back and forth between the couple, a radiant smile on her face. “Ain’t you two a picture?” she said happily.
Joe Mason had not died that day in the General Store when a robber’s bullet had shot him in the chest. He had not died because Kaylee had done what she had to do that day. She’d pushed that robber shooting at Joe down, and knocked his aim off. If she hadn’t, Joe would’ve ended up shot right through the head.
Joe had finished learning his trade at her pa’s shop, and had been ready to start work there too when the opportunity to buy his own shop a few towns over arose. He and Kaylee had parted amicably after that, but remained the best of friends. Kaylee had been in her first few months on Serenity when Darlene Mitchell had returned from her aunt’s off world a much more mature and all round nicer person. This was the first time Kaylee had seen Joe and Darlene together, and she didn’t think there was a more pleasing couple. Besides her and Simon of course.
Kaylee smiled contentedly as she introduced Simon and Joe to each other, two of the three great loves of her life finally meeting. And as for her third love, well… she’d introduce Joe to Serenity later. She was sure he’d revel in her warm curves and brilliant construction as much as she had.
River buried her face in Jayne’s chest, breathing in his musky scent. Sweaty yes, but still manly and attractive as he’d said. She laughed as she watched Kaylee mesmerise Joe with her talk of the many frays she’d gotten Serenity out of, and mesmerise Simon with… just— herself. The Kaylee they knew and utterly adored was well and truly back.
“Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down…” River murmured, understanding yet again the truth in those words.
It was midnight when two figures slipped away from the festivities under the cover of darkness. The grass and the trees and the night swallowed them up and they headed for the sound of water lapping against earth. It wasn’t long before Jayne and River stood by Brydon’s Creek, almost exactly where Kaylee had been earlier in the day.
JJ’s wife and their two children had arrived earlier, adding to the growing party in the Frye’s back yard. Once Mitch’s girlfriend had left work, she too had joined them. The excitement had been in full swing by nine o’ clock, with the kids - and Mal - running riot through the grasses and flowers, their laughter punctuating the camaraderie and chatter of the adults sitting around the tables.
Kaylee’s dad had gotten drunk on homemade wine and begun singing much to his wife’s chagrin. It seemed Kaylee had learned her engine fermentation methods straight from daddy. Most of the girls had set up shop at a table playing cards while the men drank and swapped their manly stories at another.
Mal, tired from all of his skipping about and carousing with the children, had fallen asleep with his head in Inara’s lap, drooling ever so slightly on her linen-covered knee. The atmosphere and warmth of Three Hills had done Inara wonders, and she felt so much more invigorated and healthy. And as she had looked down on Mal, smoothing her slender fingers over his hair, she had felt like she’d never loved him more, despite the fact that his saliva was all over her leg.
With everyone so full of cheer and wine, it had been easy for Jayne and River to leave their respective groups and steal down to the creek together.
River decisively planted her two bare feet in the cool water, grinning like a child. “River is in the river…” she murmured.
“Little Kaylee’s homestead didn’t turn out to be half bad, did it?” Jayne remarked, watching her kick around in the shallows.
“It’s wonderful. Full of promise and crickets,” River agreed in her usual enigmatic way.
Jayne just looked at her, mirth pulling his mouth into a grim. “You say the best things, you crazy little moon brain.”
River beamed at him. Jayne grabbed her wrist and yanked her from the water, her protesting immediately. He picked her up under the arms and deposited her soundly on a soft grassy rise. Her objections were silenced as he pulled her down to sit against him.
“Three moons and a planet sitting in the sky,” River whispered, throwing her head back and looking up.
Jayne followed suit. “So there is,” he replied, trailing his fingers up and down her chilled arms.
“Kaylee was so sad. She didn’t like killing.”
“No one likes killin’,” Jayne said distractedly, his fingertips running down her collarbone and over her breasts.
“You do!” River laughed.
“That’s ‘cause I’m a vicious slayer of men! Just like you!” Jayne growled, grabbing her hips and trapping her under him all of a sudden.
River laughed and tried to scramble away, but he wouldn’t let her. “Slayer of men?” she snorted.
Jayne kissed her soundly. “Well ya slayed me, didn’t ya? Mowed me down in my damn tracks, girl.”
“But you got up again,” River said, her precocious eyes glinting in the moonlight.
“And better for it,” Jayne muttered gruffly, looking down.
River couldn’t see his face. She rarely saw his face when he said such things. Jayne wasn’t the best with admitting his emotions or feelings. She didn’t hold it against him. She already knew what he never said.
“I believe I had me an idea once…” Jayne said, pressing his lips to her neck. “It involved us alone at this creek… and didn’t involve fishing.”
River let out a little sigh of pleasure and happiness. “With only the crickets and the trees to listen…” she murmured.
“Out in the bosom of nature,” Jayne agreed, his hand dancing over her chest. “Oh look… bosom.”
River let out a snort of laughter that he quickly silenced with his lips. Jayne’s hand trailed up her leg, dragging the hem of her soft dress up her thigh. The dress pooled just under the swell of her stomach. He drew his hands slowly up over it, feeling inertly possessive as he looked upon River’s pregnant belly.
His lips left a trail of fire down her neck as he pulled the dress down her shoulders, as he opened the buttons at the front. The night air hit her feverish skin, sending shivers across River’s body. As his mouth moved lower… lower, River arched her back and gazed at the sky over Jayne’s broad shoulders.
“The stars are watching,” she murmured.
Jayne laughed against her bare breast. “Then they’re gonna get one hell of a show…”
Part 4 - Mal