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Jayne couldn't believe he was doing this. Again.

kick duck dodge fake a punch lunge

Four weeks in this place, and he was still risking getting his teeth kicked in every other damn day. All because of Wash.

scramble for balance in the mud slam into him knock him down ow son of a bitch bit me

He'd been in prison before, more than once. He knew how to behave. Back on Serenity, Wash had always been goin' on about how stupid Jayne was- well, then, how come down here, Wash couldn't figure out the right way to act?

got his neck in my hands now got him I win you stupid hoo dahn I win

He just choked the man unconscious, not dead- the guards might actually do something if bodies started turning up- and staggered to his feet. The other prisoners took a grudgingly respectful half-step back. Jayne spit in the general direction of the fallen man's gang and concentrated very hard on staying upright as he walked toward the barracks. Couldn't collapse and count wounds until he was out of sight. Couldn't look weak.

Wash fell into step beside him. "Wow. Are you okay?"

Jayne glared at him out of the one eye that would still open and kept half-walking, half-stumbling toward the ugly gray buildings at the edge of the yard.

"Thanks for stepping in like that," Wash said, hurrying ahead to open the door, for which Jayne was profoundly grateful. "I don't know what happened. It just came out of nowhere..."

"No," Jayne growled, painfully settling his body on his cot and beginning a mental count of bruises. "It came out of you running your damn mouth and not followin' the rules, even though I told you-"

"I forgot." Wash sat down on the opposite cot and watched Jayne flex his hands slowly and wince, trying to figure out if they were just bruised or broken. "You know, when he tripped you, your head actually bounced off the ground. I've never seen that before. Are you sure you're okay? I can go get one of the guards."

Jayne clenched his eyes shut tighter. That was one of the things Wash just could not seem to get through his head: that this was not the kind of prison where the guards had any interest at all in keeping the prisoners alive. They weren't important enough for that. That was why they were kept in a big common building like this, not cells...why they were allowed to form gangs and alliances and rip each other to shreds...hell, the Feds were probably hoping they'd kill each other off and keep the place under budget.

"Jayne?"

"No guards," he muttered, forcing himself into a sitting position and glaring at Wash. "Now I want you to listen to me, little man...unless you're tryin' to wind up dead..."

"I definitely prefer staying alive," Wash said, nodding rapidly. "I'm listening. Check."

Jayne closed his eyes again and tried to ignore the dull ache in his body, from this fight and all the other ones he'd been in over that four weeks of hell, keeping Wash's limbs and body attached and intact. It would be so easy, so gorram easy to just step back next time, hold his hand, let the others tear the pilot apart. Wash wouldn't last five minutes. "You've gotta keep your gorram head down," he said. "And your mouth shut. Just stay back from them, and don't talk."

"Jayne, remember who you're talking to," Wash said apologetically. "Talking's what I'm used to doing. But I'll try."

"This ain't the real world, Wash," Jayne said wearily, lying back down. "Rules are different here."

"Yeah. I get that." The pilot was quiet for a minute, and Jayne thanked all of his ancestors who might be listening. It didn't last. "I really appreciate it, by the way. You getting all beat up because of me."

He shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably against the thin cot. "When Zoe shows up lookin' for you, you've gotta be alive and kickin' or she'll feed me my liver."

"They'll be here for us soon," Wash said. "I bet they're on their way to get us right now."

"Not us," Jayne muttered. "You."

"What?" Wash sounded honestly shocked. Jayne rolled his eyes.

"You really think that if it was just me who got my ass caught by the Feds, that you all would waste more'n ten minutes tryin' to get me out?"

"Of course we would."

Jayne sat up again. It hurt, but you ought to look a man in the eye when you explain basic parts of reality to him. "No, Wash. You'd list out the good and the bad of breakin' into a place like this to rescue one man, and Mal would think it over, and you'd all agree there ain't no way it's worth it."

"But you said they're coming just for me," Wash said. "I'm only one man."

Jayne smiled as best he could, considering that half of his face didn't much want to respond. "That's 'cause for you, Zoe'll add somethin' to the bottom of the list. She'll say, 'Mal, we go get him or I'll kick your ass out the airlock,' and Serenity takes off lickety-split."

Wash stared at him for a minute. "You really think that?"

"Facts is facts." Jayne laid down one more time and promised himself that this time he wouldn't move again. Possibly ever. "And if I let you wind up dead before they get here, Zoe'll gut me, so for God's sake keep your damn mouth shut outside, dong ma?"
*****
"Jayne," Wash hissed. "Jayne!"

He kept his eyes resolutely closed. His gut said that there was another half-hour before the bell hauled them out of bed for headcount, and he wasn't wasting any of it on being awake. "Shut up."

"No, Jayne, it's important. I'm serious."

He opened one eye and shot a murderous glare across the little space. "What?"

Wash was practically shaking with excitement. "I just went out to the latrines, and you'll never guess what I saw."

"Ain't gonna guess," Jayne growled, "and you'd better be real careful about the next sentence you say."

"One of the Feds left a hopper over in the yard." Wash grinned. Jayne stared.

"A what?"

"A hopper. Ship-to-ship transport, extremely short-range shuttle. They're really low-powered, it'll be a bitch to get one through atmo, but I can do it. I can get us out of here!"

Jayne sat up slowly, wincing at the daggers of pain that went through him. "You want to steal a Fed shuttle?"

"Yes," Wash said patiently. "You've been a little slow on the uptake the last day or two, you know. How hard did you hit your head, anyway?"

"Watch it, little man," Jayne mumbled, blinking fast to try to clear the throbbing in his skull. "I just ain't awake yet, is all. You really think you can get that thing through atmo?"

"Please," Wash said, looking offended. "I don't question your brawling skills, you don't question my piloting."

Jayne's face still hurt, but he smiled anyway. "Let's get the hell out of here."
*****
"Well," Wash said, grinning at the starfield showing through the little craft's forward window. "That went well."

"You kiddin' me?" Jayne was huddled in the back of the hopper, looking distinctly green around the edges. "That was awful. I never get sick breakin' atmo, but that was..."

"This baby wasn't really meant to do that," Wash said, patting the control panel. "I had to talk her into it."

"You need to work on your negotiatin' skills," Jayne muttered, hauling himself up to see the screen. "Anybody chasin' us?"

"No..." Wash ran the scan again and grinned. "But there is a Firefly, out at the edge of the sector. A Firefly I know well, even if she is being steered like a garbage scow at the moment. Mal must be piloting. Or, attempting to pilot, I should say..."

"You gonna talk or you gonna send a wave?" Jayne demanded. Wash flushed.

"Sending now." His hands danced over the controls. "It'll take them a half-hour or so to get to us, you know."

"Yeah?" Jayne stared up at the ceiling. "After four weeks, I can handle that."

"Oh, me too." Wash scowled at the panel- he could only find the text command, not the live wave. He hoped Mal and Zoe would believe it was really them- though the rather personal nickname in the greeting should guarantee that. "I'm just saying, we didn't get to bond much down there, what with all the fighting. And there's one question I've been dying to ask you for a while."

"What?" Jayne asked with infinite weariness.

Wash glanced back over his shoulder. "Why Vera?"
*****
The cargo bay doors hissed open and Wash was instantly wrapped in Zoe's arms.

He dimly felt hands patting his back and shoulders in welcome, but all of his attention was fixed on kissing Zoe back...dear Zoe, beloved Zoe, light of his life...

The kiss eventually ended and the questions began. Kaylee grabbed his hands and looked him up and down, and Mal said something about getting him up to the infirmary-

"No," Wash said loudly, glancing around. Where was Jayne- oh, there, back by the door, leaning against the wall with a tired, cynical half-smile on his face as he watched the reunion. He raised one eyebrow at Wash as their eyes met- didn't I tell you?

"No," Wash said again, carefully disentangling himself from the crowd. "Jayne should see the doctor first."

"Jayne?" Kaylee flicked a puzzled glance in his direction. "Jayne's fine, he's used to stuff like that."

"No, he's not fine," Wash said. "He hit his head the other day- well, got hit, anyway- and he hasn't been right-"

"Hell, Wash, don't worry about it," Jayne said. "Go see the damn doc."

"Simon, look at Jayne first." Wash squeezed Zoe's hand gently in response to the puzzled look she was giving him. "Please."

"All right," the doctor said with a smile, stepping onto the stairs. "I must say, I'm not sure how you can tell if Jayne's suffering from a head injury based on behavior..."

Wash was the only one who didn't laugh.
*****
Zoe kissed his face soundly. "I'm so glad you're back, and safe."

Wash smiled and traced his fingertips over her face. Beautiful Zoe. "Sorry we didn't let you do the riding-to-the-rescue thing."

"Probably for the best. The plan was crazy." She snuggled down deeper in the blankets. "I'm glad Jayne had the sense to look out for you down there. If anything had happened to you, I would've fed him his liver on a plate."

"He knew that." He ran his hand over her shoulders, and she smiled at him. "You really should tell him thank you."

"Thank Jayne? What for?" She blinked. "For not making me kill him?"

"For helping me out. Keeping me safe. Trying to teach me how to take care of myself, even though I was a slow learner." He toyed with the ends of her hair. "And, you know, getting the hell beaten out of him so I didn't have to."

She studied his face. "You mean it, don't you? You want me to thank him."

Wash shrugged. "I think it would be nice.
*****
It was a long moment between Wash's knock on the door and its opening. Jayne stared at him in bleary-eyed puzzlement.

"Hi," Wash said, shifting his weight uncomfortably. "Just wanted to see how you were doing."

Jayne rubbed the side of his head and kept looking at Wash like the pilot had sprouted wings and a tail. "Fine."

"Good! Fine is good." Wash nodded. "What did the doctor say?"

"You were right. I was concussed. Said I oughta take better care of my skull, since it ain't actually made outta rocks." Jayne glanced past Wash down the corridor. "Shouldn't you be gettin' reacquainted with your wife?"

"She's asleep. I, um...I guess I'm still on prison time." He shrugged. "You know?"

Jayne nodded. "Yeah. Won't last more than a day or two."

"Oh, good. Good." They stared at each other for a moment. Wash cleared his throat and held up a bottle. "I, um, have some whiskey."

"Doc said I shouldn't have any of that," Jayne muttered, rubbing his head again.

"Oh." Wash waited another moment, but Jayne just kept looking at him, his face tired and confused. Okay. This wasn't the mercenary's strong point, reading subtle social clues. Wash would be clearer. "You know, you never finished telling me about how you got Vera."

Now Jayne just looked purely bewildered. "Huh?"

"Jayne," Wash said patiently. "I want to talk to you." He waited a beat, then elaborated. "Have a conversation. Do that bonding thing."

Comprehension dawned, but it was mixed with skepticism. "Oh. Why?"

Wash shrugged. "Serenity's not all that big. Seems like we should know each other better. We're all part of the same crew, after all."

Jayen blinked and slowly stepped back down the ladder. "Really?"

Wash smiled. "Yeah."

"Okay." Jayne nodded. "Come on in."

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