Jayne floated back to consciousness, slowly becoming aware that he was in the infirmary, stripped to his skivvies, under a sheet, with a needle in his arm. He hurt, but not as much as he thought he ought to, bein' as his last memory was gettin' ripped to shreds by a bunch of mean and furry little critters. Whatever painkillers the doc had used on him were workin' just fine.
Simon was alternately applying tissue sealant and sewing him up where the cuts was too deep for that. And Illyria sat beside him, holding his hand. "I gonna live?" he croaked. He tried to sit up, but Simon shoved him back down and continued working.
"Barely." Was those tears on her face? "You should not have gone with us."
"Miss a tussle like that? Naw. It was fun up 'til the part with the gorram squirrels." He reached up and put his hand on her cheek. Hadn't meant to make her cry. "Did we win?"
"We effected a strategic retreat. Angel and the Captain are discussing our options."
"They'll figger it out." He turned his head to the side and twitched violently. "Should they be doing that?"
"Spike was injured almost as badly as you," Simon said without stopping his work. "Fred volunteered her blood to help make him better."
The sight of Fred's wrist over Spike's mouth was just...wrong, even though Spike was still unconscious himself. "We oughta pick up a cow or something for them two vampires, if they're gonna stay." A wave of dizziness passed over him, and he closed his eyes, taking some deep breaths.
Simon finished up, peeling off his gloves and standing back. "You should rest, Jayne. The artificial blood will replace what you lost, but it'll take awhile for you to fully recover."
He didn't open his eyes. "Tired, for sure. 'llyria, you gonna be here when I wake up?"
"I will not leave your side," she assured him.
"Good. That's...good..." He faded out.
"He'll be fine," Simon said to Illyria. "You got him to me in time."
She scrubbed at the traitorous tears on her face. "I should not be so attached to him. I felt much grief when Wesley died. I would rather not feel that emotion again."
"Well, you won't have to this time. If he--"
"Bloody buggering hell!"
"Spike is awake," Illyria said unnecessarily.
"Whose bloody stupid idea was that?" Spike sat up and glared wildly around the room, wiping at Fred's blood on his lips.
"Mine!" Fred crossed her arms and glared right back. "You want to make something of it? You were injured, Spike. You needed blood. I gave you some. End of story."
"Oh. Um. Well," he responded, abashed. "Ta very much, pet, but you might've been hurt."
"Think I care?" She jumped up and started pacing around the cramped infirmary, waving her arms. Simon ducked to avoid being hit in the head. "You were just lying there, and no one knew what to do, and so I just did it, okay? I've lost enough friends. I don't need to lose another one." The stress of the last few days finally caught up with her, and she buried her face in her hands.
"Oh, bloody...I am such a stupid git," he muttered. "Come on, Freddi. Off to your room with you. Have a good cry and you'll feel better." He guided her out of the room toward the passenger bunks.
"Is that true?" Illyria asked Simon. "A good cry makes one feel better?"
"Often." He puttered about, setting the room to rights.
Where going in with guns blazing hadn't worked, going in with the thrusters blazing was far more effective. After putting out the glow coming from the Hellmouth, Wash did some sweeps and made sure that nothing was alive within a fifteen mile radius of the thing. Mal clapped him on the shoulder and commended him for his good work.
"And now," Mal said darkly, "it's time to go meet our contact. Let's find out who's pullin' these strings."
They flew to the little town that was the agreed-upon rendezvous spot and fueled up. Now Mal knew why they wanted to meet at night, vampires having a sun allergy and all. Their contact hailed them at exactly the time he was supposed to, and Mal opened up the cargo bay door and met him with Zoe, the box that had contained Angel between them.
The man stepped forward, putting his hand out. "Malcolm Reynolds? I'm Reynard Warner, representing Wolfram and Hart. I trust the cargo was no problem?"
"Oh, the cargo weren't no problem at all. All the accessories that came with it, though...those were all manner of trouble." Mal didn't take the outthrust hand, choosing instead to rest his hand on his gun.
"Accessories? I'm afraid I don't understa--oh, crap." This last was said as Angel, Spike, Fred, and Illyria stepped into the light cast by Santo's sister moon.
"Crap indeed. You wanna tell me why I'm transporting not-quite-human cargo against its will? I ain't never held to that, and I thought I made it plain when we struck our deal. We have some sort of miscommunication?"
Warner's gaze slid from Spike's torn and blood-soaked Hawaiian shirt, to the claw marks down Mal's arm, to the fading scars on the back of Zoe's hand, to the bruise on Fred's face, the cut across Illyria's eyebrow, and finally to the healing bite wounds on Angel's arms. "I, uh..."
"You owe me some coin," Mal said.
"But--he's--" Warner sputtered.
"Job was to get this box and its contents to this particular spot at this particular time. Ain't my fault there was a spill. Contents is intact. What you do with him is your deal and no part of my business. Same with what he does to you." Keeping his right hand on his gun, Mal held out his left. "The coin."
"All right, all right." He reached into his suit jacket.
"Anything comes out of that other than money, and you'll be riddled fulla holes," Mal warned him.
"Fine, fine. Keep your shirt on." He withdrew a packet of money and tossed it to Mal, who counted it.
"Mighty fine." Mal didn't relax. "Angel, you goin' with this man, or is there someplace else you want me to drop you?"
"I think he's caused me enough trouble." Angel crossed his arms.
"You." Mal pointed at Warner. "Off my boat. Next time you want to transport human cargo, pick someone else."
"He's not human--" Warner began.
"You itchin' for a demo of just how not-human he is? Didn't think so." As Warner scuttled away, Mal said, "Damn, we got paid! That was a hell of a bluff I just run, weren't it, Zoe? I didn't really expect him to pay us."
"Well done, Sir. Guess this means we'll be eatin' for the next little while."
"That we will." Mal hit the button that raised the ramp. "Wash, take us into town," he said over the intercom.
"You may have just made an enemy of Wolfram and Hart," Angel said.
"Somethin' tells me he was a loner in this one. And if he weren't, well, his bosses ain't gonna be too happy with his big fat failure, are they?"
"You think he opened the Hellmouth by himself?" Fred asked, as most of them headed back to the kitchen. Illyria peeled off and went to the infirmary and Jayne.
"Might have," Mal said. "Didn't see no one else hangin' about. Word of what happened gets out, maybe it'll give others pause before they try it again. Which is why I left that hun dan alive. Well, that, and he paid me after I only threatened him a little bit."
"We had plenty of lone nuts in Sunnydale," Spike said. "Wouldn't be the first time."
They all grabbed seats around the kitchen table, except Zoe, who got them some mugs and a bottle of Kaylee's engine hooch before joining them. Now the job was done with, they could relax and unwind a little. Soon they was swappin' yarns and laughin' together like they'd known each other for years.
They'd earned some coin, saved a world, and made some new friends, Mal thought. All in all, not a bad job.