The second half.
Buzz proved to be a hit with Serenity’s family over the next few days. He was as charismatic with the women as he’d been when River met him outside Red’s, and he was cheerful and friendly with the men. It was difficult not to take a shine to him, what with his effortless good looks and equally effortless charm. He lent a hand at everything, whether it was loading cargo, cooking meals or taking care of Hobie.
River was torn. A part of her had warmed to him just as the others had, but another part told her that much of it was a façade that hid a very different Willem Barstow.
On his second night on Serenity, Kaylee posed Buzz a question over dinner.
“How come they call ya Buzz?” she asked.
Buzz smirked and sat back. He deftly unbuttoned his shirt, baring his chest. Kaylee’s glass slipped from her hand as she stared in shock. Everyone else around the table had much the same reaction, except for Jayne, who knew all about it already. Starting at Buzz’s collarbone and reaching down to his navel was a thick, jagged scar, a deep indent in his chest really.
“Holy cow,” Mal breathed.
Buzz just grinned. “Had a run in with a buzz saw when I was a young ‘un. Never rightly healed. That’s where my nickname came from anyhow.”
“That’s quite an impressive scar Mr. Barstow,” Inara laughed.
Buzz smiled at her. “I like to think so.”
Mal watched the exchange between them and jumped in quickly. “I got scars too,” he said pointlessly. “Remember when I got stabbed defending your honour? I got ran right through with a sword too – that was interesting. And then there was that time when I got tortured, had an ear cut off and died!”
“There, there Mal. Don’t be jealous,” Zoë simpered.
Mal feigned offence. “Well credit where credit’s due! I’ve taken a lot on behalf of this crew. Maybe I should let ya’ll get all tortured ‘n’ stabbed ‘n’ dead yourselves, see how it feels!”
“Not good, I’d wager,” Kaylee remarked.
“There ya have – not good,” Mal agreed.
The dinner table was filled with more lively conversation, Mal feeling quite the need to impress upon everyone the seriousness of the injuries he’d received, and the manly scars he’d gotten on account of them all. Following dinner, the Captain’s continuing cheeriness compelled him to suggest a basketball game down in the hold. River was on dish duty, and was still cleaning up when Buzz came in, sweaty and thirsty, looking for a drink.
He brushed behind her as she stood at the counter, moving closer than she thought he needed to. As he gulped down his water, he watched her.
“So you’ve thrown your lot in with Jayne then, huh? Guess I was wrong-headed to set my cap at you back at Red’s. Don’t regret it though.”
River didn’t reply. Buzz moved closer. She could feel his breath on her neck.
“Surprised at how young you are though. Still a teenager. But then again, Jayne always did like ‘em young.” He laughed; it was a sharp and crude laugh, laced with innuendo. He put his hand on the small of her back and ran it up her spine. “A lot to be had from a girl your age though, a lot.”
River just smiled calmly at him. “You’d know all about that, wouldn’t you? That girl you bedded on Greenleaf when you were twenty-six? She was fourteen.”
Buzz blinked at her, his mouth slightly open. He snatched his hand away from her. “I never told Jayne about that.”
“I know you didn’t.”
“Then how’d you know about it?” he pressed, his voice silky smooth.
“Sometimes you can just tell things about a person.
Buzz’s eyes flared and he pressed against her back, leaning down to her ear. “You know what I can tell about you? That this innocent little girl act ain’t the real you. Jayne wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with ya if that were true. He needs a girl willing to do things most whores wouldn’t. I think you’re that kinda girl. Underneath the pretty smiles and the big eyes, I bet there’s some real darkness in you.”
River’s face was set in a hard expression. “Oh there’s darkness in me. Just not the kind you mean.”
She turned around abruptly, eager to get away from this man. He made her skin crawl. He was right behind her when she spun around though, and with their bodies pressed together, he realised something. He looked down and smoothed a hand over her abdomen, and found that under the loose layers of the dress was a very rounded stomach.
“You’re pregnant.” Buzz seemed dazed, shaken, regretful even. “You’ve gotta be kidding me…” he murmured.
River’s entire body repelled against his hand pressed to her stomach. It felt invasive and wrong. She looked him in the eyes and was horrified at what she found there. The real Willem Barstow. Underneath his pretty smiles and big eyes, he had some darkness of his own. She wrenched herself away from him and fled the kitchen.
She worried over what she’d seen in Buzz and what to do about it. Eventually, she came to a decision. She just hoped it was the right one.
It was late that night when Jayne went to River’s room. She was already asleep, so he just slipped in beside her. He fell in and out of sleep, feeling unsettled, and during one such bout of unsettlement he opened his eyes. He thought he was dreaming at first, but no, it was real. Buzz really was sitting in the chair in the corner, a loaded gun in his lap.
“Finally. Thought I was gonna hafta wait until daybreak.”
Jayne squinted in the dim light. “What is this Buzz?”
Buzz switched on a lamp and looked at Jayne, his eyes hard. “It’s funny how things turn out, ain’t it? How people’s lives turn about and change in the blink of an eye? My life changed the day we pulled that heist, nine years since. And your life’s gonna changed this very night.”
“You couldn’t wait until tomorrow to get all wistful at me?”
Buzz squared his jaw. “You know what I had nine years ago Jayne? I had a wife and child, waitin’ back home for me while I went out ‘n’ tried to earn our fortune. So we could live, so we could survive. I thought that heist of ours was gonna be my dream come true. Turns out after we went our separate ways though, you got pinched by the Feds.”
Jayne exhaled and rolled his eyes. So he knew. Buzz knew what he’d done. “Damn it all to hell – this is a vendetta? A ruttin’ vendetta? Why didn’t you just shoot me at Red’s when you saw me and be done with it?”
“Because this is more poetic,” Buzz whispered. “You see, I had three outstanding warrants on me back then – and you had none. So when the law said they’d let you go if you told ‘em how to find me… you did it. You sold me out. And while I was rotting in jail for five years, my woman, my child, they were dying of a brain fever halfway across the ‘verse. Course, by time I’d gotten out, they were dead and buried. Then I heard tell about you, gallivanting about Persephone, not a care in the world. I find you at Red’s, and you’re all wrapped up in this girl. And I see you got a weakness now that you didn’t have before. And this is where the poetic part comes in – she’s pregnant. So now I get to take from you what you took from me.”
Jayne’s face darkened. “You think I’m gonna let you do that?”
“I think you got no way to stop me. I don’t see no weapons about you.” He shrugged. “Don’t you understand Jayne? This is for the best. You’d have just betrayed her in the end, like you betray everyone. I heard about Stitch. Heard what you did to him. Heard about the sticky end he came to on Higgin’s Moon. You just can’t keep but one friend, can ya?”
Buzz stood up. “You’re gonna die now Jayne. Two bullets. One. Two. And then you’re dead. Well. Guess all I really need is one,” he sniggered. “I ain’t rightly sure what I’ll do with the girl. Maybe I’ll shoot her, maybe not. Maybe I’ll take her for myself, bring that child up as my own. Seein’ as how it were your fault mine got taken, maybe I should take yours.”
Jayne was standing now as well, glaring at Buzz. “You won’t be takin’ anythin’ from me. You wouldn’t know what to do with her even if River were yours. She ain’t just a harmless little girl y’know. She could kill you right now if she wanted.”
“It won’t matter. You’ll already be dead.”
Buzz aimed the gun at Jayne’s head and fired right at the very moment that a quite awake River sat up and pulled a gun from under her pillow, and fired it at him. Both Buzz and Jayne went down, but River didn’t waste time bothering with Buzz. She went right to Jayne.
“Jayne? Jayne? No… I had a plan. I knew!” she cried. “I knew… and I planned… and you can’t be dead. Because I knew I had to save you.” Blood gushed from the wound in Jayne’s head and River shook his limp body. “Wake up! Tell me I saved you! Tell me I saved you!”
And then River knew the exact way Zoë felt, she didn’t need to imagine anymore. Zoë Washburne had been left to bring up a fatherless child, and now, River Tam feared that so would she.
“Hi. Me again. Can’t seem to stay away, can I? I’ve just got so much to tell you, so much to say. Your baby here is growing more and more, every day. I wish you could be here. See it all happen. A hole in the ground is no place for someone like you. No place at all. Every day, I wish something had gone differently… No point wishing though. No point. I think I’m just going to stop wishing, and start doing. Here’s life, staring me in the face, so I’m just going to live it. I have to…”
River sighed, fighting back tears. Kaylee came up beside her and took her hand, feeling a little teary herself.
Mal was stoic. Seemed he had a way with death now, he’d seen so much of it. He just didn’t let it in anymore. Well, he tried not to. Sometimes it clawed through though, leaving a great, gaping hole right over his heart. He surmised that that was what heartbreak was. And it hurt every time.
“How long do you think she’ll be?” Kaylee asked softly.
Mal exhaled and shifted his gait slightly. “I conjure she’s got a bit to tell him. She can take all the time she wants.”
River gazed out over the dusty plane from where she stood with Kaylee and Mal on Serenity’s ramp. Zoë was crouched by Wash’s grave with Hobie, talking aloud – to herself, to her son, to Wash. To any and all gods that might have been listening in.
“No. She won’t need long,” River told them. She smiled through her tears. “She knows she’s got all the time in the world now, to grieve, to love. None of it ever goes away. I think she’s getting that now. Grieving and loving, they go hand in hand.”
“How’s that for profound?” Mal asked, turning around and smiling. “You missed your calling as a preacher.”
River ducked her head, smiling faintly.
“Now you two, I don’t want no more weeping,” Mal said sternly. “Times is good. Don’t hurt to remember what’s lost, but times is good all the same. You, Kaylee, set about bein’ cheerful-like, and River, start babbling some amusing crazy talk. I don’t want Zoë comin’ back to a ship like a funeral home. Shiny?”
Kaylee and River both nodded, finding it difficult not to smile. Mal kissed each of them on the forehead, and walked back up the ramp and into the ship.
“How’s Jayne been?” Kaylee asked River as they slowly followed Mal back in.
“Complaining a lot.”
Kaylee chuckled. “Ain’t much of a surprise. Guess he’s got the right to complain some. Was a close shave he had. That Buzz was definitely one underhanded piece of go se, duping us like that.”
“I think he was duping himself more than us,” River said distantly. “Waiting, waiting all that time. Waiting for revenge, waiting for fulfilment. He was just like Zoë, just like what I could have been, sitting by a grave, wondering where his life had gone.”
Kaylee smiled brightly. “Only Zoë’s better than that.”
“And luckily, Jayne’s a stubborn son of a gun and didn’t let no pesky coma keep him down.”
River was wry. “Luckily.”
Jayne had been shot in a lot of different places, but he’d never been shot in the head. As it turns out, pulling a bullet out of someone’s skull wasn’t as simple as pulling it out of an arm or a leg, what with all of that delicate brain tissue inconveniently situated there. He’d slipped into a coma for a few very nervous days, and Simon had admitted that he was out of his depth, and that they needed better equipment to assess the damage.
A trip to the nearest planet with adequate medical facilities had found them on Boros. As it happened, they hadn’t needed such a hurried dash to the hospital, as Jayne woke up after one night there, and started harassing doctors almost immediately. They had been glad indeed to release him back into Simon’s care.
He was on the mend now, up and about, shouting and swearing, the usual Jayne antics. Buzz’s bullet had just barely penetrated the side of his skull, on account of River’s bullet hitting him first and throwing him off. As for Buzz himself, Simon had patched up the wound in his shoulder and they dumped him out on Jianying. Jayne had wanted to go back and engage in some killing, but everyone had vetoed him in hasty succession.
It wasn’t long before Zoë was ready to return to the ship. Everyone had gathered in the hold to greet her, on River and Kaylee’s request. They had something up their sleeve.
“Shouldn’t you be resting?” Kaylee asked Jayne.
“Everyone’s supposed to be here, so I’m here. Been shot before, ain’t no big deal.”
“Sure, ‘cause getting shot in the brain, that’s just a walk in the park,” Kaylee snarked. “You almost died.”
“She’s right,” River chimed in. “Don’t almost die on me again, okay? Or I’ll kill you.”
Jayne made a face at her and crossed his arms. “Next time, let me in on your cunning plan. Maybe then I could not get almost dead.”
“Ah, y’know I find getting almost dead really ingratiates ya with the ladies,” Mal spoke up, grinning smartly at Inara. “Makes ‘em come over all affectionate and guiltful.”
“I think I’m coming over all nauseous,” Inara shot back.
“The gathering on account of me?” Zoë asked, coming up the ramp hand-in-hand with Hobie.
“Yes, actually, River and Kaylee have some secret surprise for you,” Simon said, giving the two girls a confused look.
Kaylee grinned delightedly, like she couldn’t wait to get it out in the open. “We don’t have much footage of Wash, ‘cept a few captures of you and him on your wedding day, and some of us messin’ around in the hold here… And we know you want Hobie to know his dad, not just hear about him, but know him…”
Mal crossed his arms. “This is goin’ somewhere sometime soon I hope?”
“We did something illegal,” River said cheerfully.
“We hacked the Cortex mainframe of Wash’s old flight school,” Kaylee continued. “They record all of their training sessions ‘n’ it turns out that he was recorded in class, we even got some o’ him goofin’ off with Mr. Universe. Bein’ one of their best pilots, he was on a lot of the training videos too. He even taught for a while himself. So we got it all. Every last second they had of Wash. And it’s not just like a capture. It’s all big and 3-D.”
River grinned and set up the holo-capture on the floor. Moments later, Wash appeared before them, large as life, semi-muscular and all. The group let out varying degrees of surprise and joy, some walking around Wash’s image, looking at it from the back, the sides. Inara pressed both hands to her mouth, her eyes filling with tears, while Kaylee looked as happy as could be.
Zoë’s reaction was unreadable until Hobie walked up to the hologram and pointed at it, turning back to Zoë proudly as if he’d found it himself. “It’s Daddy.”
Zoë’s face broke into a smile and she scooped Hobie up, tears running down her face. “Yes! Yes, Junior, it’s Daddy. That’s your daddy, baby. Right there.”
River pressed play on the remote and Wash’s frozen image sprung to life. Behind him was a huge plane hangar, several ships sitting inside.
“Ahem. Hello. Hi there. I am Hoban Washburne,” he announced grandly, his speech and countenance a little stiff. “I am a pilot. You too could be a pilot. Like me. Because that is what I do. I pilot things. Spaceships mostly. The odd unicycle maybe…” He glanced off screen, where it seemed like someone was chastising him and telling him to stick to the point. “Ahem. Moving swiftly on. This is called a hangar. It’s where the ships go to get all pretty.”
Not looking where he was going, he stumbled over a toolbox and then jumped back up. “Things like that often happen in a place like this. Danger is everywhere. That’s what the life of a pilot is like – it’s dangerous, it’s sexy, it’s exciting,” he intoned, with a comical raised eyebrow.
Zoë laughed, shaking her head. She was riveted to him.
“Damn fine thing you two did,” Mal said to Kaylee and River. “Damn fine thing.”
That night, Wash returned to Serenity for the first time in much too long. His voice filled the cargo hold, and filled up his friends with the joy of just hearing it once again. Everyone watched all of the recordings right through, and even when they had resumed their work, or gone to bed, Zoë was still there, cradling the sleeping Hobie, and watching them all over again. Watching her husband be his inescapably wonderful self.
An audience with Hoban Washburne. Zoë couldn’t think of anything much better.
Part 6 - Jayne