Wrong Way Home

A Firefly story by Matthew

Beyond wingtip, dragonfly contrails streak
the reddening dusk.
I'm in the air again,
still going the wrong way home.
  - from An exile commutes on 5371 by Deirdre Johnston


The young doctor sprawled in a chair at the head of the Serenity's galley table, half-full cup in one hand, a dusty, half-empty cord-wrapped bottle in the other. The mis-matched chairs around the table were precisely tipped forward to lean against the table's edge. Simon blearily stared at a point far beyond the middle of the table. He didn't react to the clump of boots on the catwalk, nor to the sudden appearance of Jayne. Jayne glanced at Simon as he headed for the coffee pot.

"Well, what'n the hell are YOU doin' up this early, Doc?" He smiled as he grabbed his large ceramic mug from the counter and tipped coffee into it. "Or you been up all night, carousin'-like?" When Simon didn't respond, Jayne reached over Simons' shoulder and snatched the bottle; he looked a little disappointed when Simon didn't react. He sniffed the bottle and grinned.

"Now, this here's the breakfast of champions," said Jayne, saluting Simon with a wave of the bottle, and poured a generous shot into his coffee. He plopped the bottle back in front of Simon, grabbed a chair and spun it around before straddling it. "What's the big occasion, Doc? Kaylee finally drop her drawers for ya?" Jayne chuckled, appreciating his own humor. He commenced spooning sugar into his cup.

"Jayne," said Simon without looking up, "every time you descend further into crudity, I think that's it, that nobody can possibly be more boorish. Somehow, you manage it." He raised his eyes and focused on Jayne's smirk. "No, if you must know; I'm saying goodbye." Simon's drunkenness didn't seem to effect his voice much.

"Bout time." Jayne sipped his coffee and grimaced. "You ain't takin' all your stuff, are ya?" He added more sugar and another shot from the bottle while Simon grimly shook his head. "Ya don't wanna be all loaded down while your runnin' from the feds, trust me." Jayne sipped again, then half emptied the mug with a long drink.

"Not taking anything I didn't come with," muttered Simon. He fumbled in his shirt pocket and withdrew a small bottle, clutched it as he continued. "The occasion is the anniversary of the day I stepped on this ship. The occasion is I've left my home, and I'm saying goodbye to everything and everyone I'm never seeing again." He gestured to the tipped chair beside Jayne. "Goodbye to my Father, who raised and betrayed me," Simon said, then pointed at the place Jayne was sitting. "Goodbye to my Mother, who allowed my sister to be given to the beast." Jayne looked down uncomfortably at his chair, then got up and moved to refill his cup. Simon continued, pointing to each chair in turn. "Goodbye to my best friend, who I left behind to explain my disappearance." Jayne chose that chair to sit back down. "Goodbye to. . ." Jayne interrupted.

"All I wanna know is when I get my goodbyes, okay?" Jayne was clearly bothered, and sulkily returned to his coffee.

"Soon," said Simon, and giggled hysterically. "It won't be long now." Simon swallowed what remained in his glass in a gulp, then rolled the little bottle across the table to Jayne. It rolled to a stop, skull and crossbones grinning up at Jayne. "I put that in the bottle last night, for my last goodbye drink. Thanks for joining me." Simon staggered to his feet, stood swaying unsteadily.

"But, this is poison, ain't it?" Jayne poked at the bottle gingerly, and it obligingly rolled over, revealing large blood-red letters spelling 'Poison'.

"Don't worry, you won't feel a thing. Unlike you, it's quite humane." Jayne's horrified look at his coffee, then at Simon, started Simon laughing again. "In fact, I feel quite. . . " Simon started a sentence, then his eyes rolled up and he collapsed against the counter and rolled under the table, scattering chairs. Jayne slowly leaned and looked under the table; Simon was laying still and unbreathing, tongue protruding, face flushed.

He slowly straightened up in his seat, and carefully put down his mug. He didn't hear the clump of boots on the catwalk, nor look up when Mal walked into the galley. Mal's look took in the bottle and Simon on the floor.

"Mornin', Jayne," Mal said cheerfully, "you're startin' kinda early, ain't ya?" He stepped over Simon's feet to the coffee pot.

"It's poison," muttered Jayne thoughtfully, staring deep into the table.

"Oh, it ain't bad as all that," Mal said, pouring his own cup, "we've had worse coffee." He frowned at his first sip. "Maybe not recently."

"He poisoned me," Jayne continued as if he hadn't heard Mal, "then he dropped dead."

"Huh." Mal leaned over to look under the table at Simon, careful to not spill his coffee. "He does kinda look dead, don't he?" He straightened up and strode out of the galley. "Well, let's get busy then; like to finish this job before you drop dead, too." The last Mal said over his shoulder as he clumped down the catwalk.

Jayne looked around and shook his head, almost like he was just waking. Moving quickly, he pulled a crumpled bit of paper from his jacket, then dug a stub of pencil from his shirt pocket. He spread the paper on the table, then bent over it and started writing slowly, speaking as he crafted each word.

"Dear. . . Ma. . . want. . . to. . . say. . . goodbye." Jayne stopped and licked his pencil point before starting again. "Please. . . tell. . . rest of. . . family. . . goodbye. . . for me. Don't. . . worry. . . Mal. . . will. . . see. . . I get. . . buried. . . proper. Reckon. . . I took. . . the. . . wrong. . . way. . . home." He was concentrating so hard on writing that he didn't hear the laughter rise briefly from the cargo hold.

"Let's go, Jayne," Mal yelled from below, "clock's tickin'! We got places to go, people to intimidate!"

Jayne silently finished the note, tucked it under his mug, and rose to leave. He turned back after one step, dug out a small wad of bills to go with the note, then hurried to his final duties. The Serenity was landing when Simon carefully rose from under the table. He listened to the sound of machinery, and voices from the hold as Mal prepared to lead some of the crew out on another shady mission. Simon stood up and looked at the note and money under the mug; he reached and reluctantly slipped the note out, then sat down again. He sat looking at the folded note, guilt and curiosity playing across his face. Finally he squared his shoulders and opened it. He silently read four lines, then reached the closing.

"Your Loving Son," Simon read aloud, a note of wonder in his voice, "Jayne E. Cobb."

Simon looked up as Jayne rushed back into the galley. There was laughter from the cargo hold again. Jayne stood and glared at Simon, then stepped to snatch the note from him.

"It ain't funny," Jayned growled, scowling down at Simon as he gathered up his money.

"No, you're right," Simon nodded, "I'm sorry."

Jayne took a step towards the cargo bay, then paused; Simon watched his back worriedly. Jayne suddenly spun around and held out the note to Simon, who just barely managed not to recoil.

"Here," Jayne said, frowning uncomfortably, "don't lose it. Somethin' sudden-like could. . . well, just hold it for me. As a doctor, right?"

Simon took it, and nodded. Jayne turned and left without further word. Simon sat and looked at the folded note.

"Wrong way home," he whispered.



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