“Who’re you?” Jayne wasn’t exactly the subtlest of people. They all sat around the table eating; though, what exactly it was they were eating was lost on Saoirse. But it was food, so she didn’t complain. They’d been sitting and eating in near silence for a good five minutes before Jayne realized there was an unfamiliar face among them.
“My name’s Saoirse,” she responded. “You must be Jayne. It’s nice to meet you.”
“You talk weird.” He shoved another bite of food into his mouth.
“Aye,” she affirmed with a shrug.
“Where’s your accent from, Saoirse?” Zoë interrupted.
“M’ ma,” she answered almost helplessly, not trying to be snotty. “She’s the only one I ever really heard talkin’ on account ’a we were always on the move.”
“People didn’t talk in the places you moved?” Saoirse took a deep breath, trying to ignore Jayne’s comment, but he was really starting to damage her calm. She’d done nothing to deserve this ridicule.
“You seem to be doin’ alright for being on your own,” Wash observed innocently.
“Prob’ly just found the right people to hump,” Jayne blurted.
“Titim gan éirí ort,” Saoise hissed. The group had been embarrassed by Jayne’s comment, but they were perplexed by Saoirse’s; all except Mal, who understood her words, but not how she knew them.
“Where’d you learn that?” His surprised, warning tone told her she’d pushed a little too far.
Standing up, she mumbled, “Sorry,” and hurried out of the room and down to the cargo bay. Mal flashed a look at Zoë, and then followed her. When he finally caught up, he found her sitting on the metal landing, hanging her feet over the edge. A sniffle told him that she was crying, or trying not to, so he approached her carefully.
“You wanna tell me what that was all about?” He took a seat next to her and tried to catch her eyes. “I know what you said, and I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t warranted, but I ain’t heard anybody use those words in a long time.”
“I wa’n’t lyin’ when I said Ma ’n I moved around a lot. But we weren’t always. Once we had a home, a family. But when most ‘a the men from the ranch went off to fight in the war, Ma took it upon herself to bring the fightin’ ta us. Her ravin’ got our home burned ta the ground--m’grandma with it--got everyone I ever knew killed. When she finally died ’erself I didn’t know whether ta feel upset ’r relieved.” The storm raging on the young girl’s face tugged at Mal’s heart. He knew what it was to lose a family and a home...
“Where’d you say you’re from?” he asked suspiciously. She looked him in the eyes for a second. Why do I know those eyes? Then almost grudgingly, she pulled a photograph from her boot and handed it to him. He caught his breath at the sight of what had once been his wife and daughter. His jaw clenched. Was it really possible? “Where’d you get this?”
“The place I useda call m’ home.”
“You said your mama’s name was Aoife Conner.”
“Aye. The same way mine ‘as Niamh Conner fer ten years. Didn’t find out m’ real name was Saoirse ’til I went back ta the ranch ‘n found that.” She turned her gaze back to her feet and sniffled again. “I’m not lookin’ fer handouts; I just didn’t know what else ta do. The Universe is a big place when you’re all alone.”
He heaved a sigh. “Ain’t it just.” Her head still hung, refusing to look at him as though she were ashamed to have even entertained the thought of finally being with her father again. “Tell ya what, when we get to Whitefall, we find someone who can do a blood test just to make sure. No matter what it says though, you are welcome on this boat. Might even be able to find you some work helping out around here to earn your keep.” He handed the photograph back to her, and she replaced it in her boot shaft and stood up.
“Yer a good man,” she whispered and headed to the passenger dorm that was to be her living quarters for the next few days.
Mal got to his feet and headed back into the kitchen. “Is she okay?” Kaylee’s face was wrinkled in concern.
“She’ll be fine,” he affirmed. “But gorramit, Jayne, you will show her whatever bit ’a kindness you got in you, or I’ll throw you out that airlock. She’s been through too much already. Dong ma?”
Jayne just grumbled something in return and finished his food. “I wonder what it was she said,” Kaylee mused, knowing full well that Mal had understood the words Saoirse had used.
“It’s an old Gaelic curse,” Mal returned, appeasing her. “She told Jayne to drop dead.”
“Hmm, I’ll have to have her teach me that one.” No one was really listening to Wash’s comment, but he was used to that by now. He almost hoped that this girl they carried would stay around a little longer than Whitefall; he could use someone to talk to.
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