Disclaimer: I don't own these characters; they are owned by Joss Whedon and his associaties.
Serenity was quiet.
He figured he ought to like that best—all the squallin' the women did and all the useless crap that came outta Wash's mouth—well, man got tired somethin' quick, was all. But with the life he'd led, Jayne Cobb knew better than to trust quiet. All quiet did was put a man's guard down, throw him off balance for when everything finally went bugshit.
He supposed everyone else was asleep, or at least holed up in their bunks, but he couldn't do the same, not tonight. No, tonight he was feelin' thoughtful… not that anyone would have believed that. Well, Mal might've. Mal knew Jayne had plenty to think about.
He sat at the galley table and cleaned one of his knives, thinking about apples, and for the first time in a long time, thinking about the lives he was accountable for.
Think about something else. The peel of an apple, when he had the patience, curling and curling and curling and thin as paper, just as easily broken as anything else, he reckoned.
He'd almost killed them that easily—slip of the mouth like a slip of the knife. There had been so much screaming…
He'd taken enough lives to know a man didn't scream like that without a good gorram reason. In fact, he'd never heard screams like that.
And what if it had been her screamin' like that?
Jayne turned the knife over, polished again.
He thought he'd rather be the one screamin', the one dyin' first, than to hear her soul tear out through her mouth like that.
It was hard enough when she screamed in her sleep.
Serenity was quiet.
She never really noticed when the ship was quiet, because it was always loud in her head, loud and crowded. She only noticed when the ship was empty, and tonight it was—well, it almost was.
His brain was full, full of apples and edges and dead men bleeding something other than apple juice, with something other than seeds in their heads.
And then he was thinking of her, and it was like looking in a mirror, only she couldn't make that River he saw meet her eyes, and the Jayne-River was much prettier than she felt. That River functioned like a girl and was a girl. River envied her.
Jayne's River was an unbroken apple peel that never turned brown, and Jayne's River made River yearn.
She yearned for him in the way that Jayne-River would.
"Getting stronger," she said out loud, closing her eyes as his vision of her shattered and he jerked, the edge of his knife skimming over his thumb. It was a small nick, but Jayne hissed, his pride more hurt than his skin. He never slipped with his weapons.
"What in the gorram hell you talkin' about?" His voice was gruff as he tried to remember what he'd been thinking about, if he'd been thinkin' anything he shouldn't've. Gorram reader, it was like she was stroking his brain with her pretty little fingers.
"Won't break," River said, sidling around him and staring with fascination at the bead of blood gathering on his tough, brown skin. "Peel and peel and never break."
"Y'oughta get back to your bunk," Jayne said, shifting uncomfortably under her gaze. She always looked disheveled, like someone'd been at her, like those big sweaters were hiding somethin', and though he knew she was innocent, she never quite looked it when she got him pinned like that. Now, she was flushed and mussed, and damned if she didn't look like she was thinking about—
"Sex," River said, tilting her head and sitting in the chair adjacent to his. "Unity. Don't you feel left out? I do."
It took him a moment to catch up with her words—he was still stuck back on "sex" and that straight-on stare of hers.
She didn't mind waiting, not as long as she was getting flashes of that girl she didn't know, Jayne-River.
"Ain't nobody havin' sex," Jayne growled, sheathing his knife with a quick, frustrated thrust, for once not imagining her comin' after him with it. "Well, maybe Zoë and that idiot, but—"
"Everyone," she insisted absently, leaning down to peer closely at the droplet of blood like a perfect little apple perched on his thumb.
Jayne rolled his eyes. Crazy talk, as usual. This was new, though, this sex version of the crazy talk. "Your brother ain't," he snorted, unable to help himself. "And he ain't never gonna if he don't warm up to little Kaylee a little better'n he is now."
"Don't have… don't have to touch to touch," River said. "Captain and companion, dancing. Preacher and God communing." She snatched up his hand, her grip surprisingly strong, and she wrapped her lips around his injured thumb.
Gunmetal and smoke and guilt and oil and… no apples at all, she thought.
He jerked back so fast he nearly tipped his chair over, his eyes wide and his breath coming in bursts. This was why he didn't like quiet. Stuff like this always happened. "Aw, now, that's it, girly. We ain't always got along the best, but you ain't gettin' me in trouble. You tell the captain about this, I'll tell him what really happened."
"Trouble's your trouble," she said. "Guns and knives your tools."
Jayne scooted away from the table. Ain't gonna touch her, he thought. No matter what he'd said to Dobson—
"You were right. I don't need all of my appleseeds to have wants." She regarded him with wide eyes.
"Your…" Maybe the doc had doped him again. Felt a hell of a lot like that. "What?"
"Your guns and knives make me shiver," she said, one corner of her mouth turning up as she looked at his knife.
"Yeah, well, they oughta," Jayne stammered, unnerved by the way she was watching him, by the way she kept dropping her eyes to the knife at his side, the chair between his knees. "Little girl like yourself oughta be scared of weapons like that."
"Not little," she retorted quickly, settling one bare foot between his legs, pointing her toe and sliding the bottom of her foot over wood, her toes brushing over canvas gone hot and hard with what was beneath. "Didn't say I was scared."
Jayne let out a single, shuddering breath and tried to look at her. He couldn't move. "Come on, now—"
"Girl's name, boy's parts, Jayne's got a man's parts," River said, and he saw that look in her eyes that said she wasn't joking, she wasn't playing. She was serious, and toying with him.
Girl as smart as that one, he was a goner.
"Get on to bed, River," he finally managed, his voice hoarse. He might have been a murderer, and he might have been nearly a simpleton, but he wasn't stupid enough for this, no matter what he thought of her, no matter what kind of image he carried around in his head.
It'd take a complete backbirth not to know what she was, how special she was. He wasn't anywhere near corrupting that, taking advantage of that. Man like Jayne Cobb, he'd pay for it if he had to, but he wouldn't do this.
"Wants," she repeated. "Got 'em myself." The casual tone, all education dropped, so closely matched his or Kaylee's that the muscles in his jaw fluttered.
"Bed," he repeated. "Your own, too, don't you be pullin' no craziness."
Finally, she leaned back, sliding her foot back to herself with an expression that looked a hell of a lot like regret. When she stood and leaned down, the neck of her sweater slipping down and affording him more of a view than he'd needed—
That ain't helpin' matters one damned bit.
—he swallowed hard.
She put her lips next to his ear and felt the heat radiating off him. That would be enough for now. But this was her home, this was where she felt safe.
She would have to grow up here.
"'And the lion shall lie down with the lamb,'" she whispered, her lips moving against his ear.
He didn't let out his breath until she was out of his sight.
Serenity was quiet.
They were the misunderstood, the two mysteries aboard the ship. He—smarter than they could have imagined. She—simpler than they could have imagined. He knew more than they ever gave him credit for, and she wanted more than they would ever allow her to have.
She stood among the cargo, where once she had picked up a branch pretending to be a gun, and she danced, slow, quiet steps that stretched her from limb to limb, burning off the energy she could no longer cope with.
The lion shall lie down with the lamb.
From the spot on the catwalk where Jayne watched her dance, he thought of what she had said. Not as long as he could help it, he thought.
And as her arms reached high above her head, graceful and sweet, he did not know how long that would be.