Jayne fell back into his bunk with a heavy sigh. Once again it seemed he was on Mal's wrong side, and once again it was linked to the Tams.
"Where'd she get hold of that gun, Jayne?" has been the first words out of Mal's lips following the moonbrain's latest foray into total bug-housery. "Somehow she got her hands on your hardware. Suppose she took up something with hull-piercing bullets?"
The crew had found her, moving around the hold toting one of his favourites, nursin' it like she was holdin' a bunch of flowers. Gorram freak.
Naturally Jayne had defended himself – afterall he really didn't have any ruttin' idea how she'd laid her hands on the shooter. "I didn't make her crazy, Mal. Hell I didn't want her to come on this gorram ship." But now, as he settled back onto his hard bunk, he saw he has been stupid, to touch on the sore spot that was Ariel."Are you sure that's how you want this conversation to go?" Mal had hissed.
Either way, it'd been yet another excuse for Mal to come down on him. And now, figurin' that he'd also slept through the bounty hunter's visit, he was in it even worse. "Remind me I'm paying you for?" had been Mal's reaction. "Gorram it, in the end it was River that saw him off. Seems she's swiftly taking over some of your public relations responsibilities….so remind me why I'm payin' you?"
Jayne could hardly believe it. It was bad enough that Kaylee had been claiming the girl had killed three of Niska's crew with little more than a blink (which, he reasoned, was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard) but to have Mal comparing him – him of all people, only one of the best gorram merc's outside of the Core – to the freak. It was far from shiny.
He moved heavily onto one side, and then reached out to strip the thin shield of sheeting that laid between him and Vera. Gazing at the gun, he pulled her from her locks, and automatically began to take her to pieces for the fiftieth time this week. It was, to Jayne, a form of meditation. Try as he might however, his mind would not shift from the girl.
She bugged him in a way he couldn't quite figure. She certainly annoyed him – hell with the catawaulin' and the downright confusin' chatter that came out of her mouth, even Shepherd must've cussed her a few times, he figured. But there was more to it than that. There was that creepy way she seemed to be able to read his thoughts. Once too often now he had been makin' some plans and she'd made some kind of freak-ass comment that just somehow seemed to hit a mark. "Your toes are in the sand," she muttered to him that time on Ariel.
Jayne shifted uncomfortably at the memory. Bad enough that she'd smelt somethin' on him anyway, but what'd been worse was that it'd made him feel bad, like the way he'd felt sometimes as a kid after he'd stolen credits from his pop's back pocket.Gorram it, he was Jayne Cobb, and he never gave a rat's ass what anyone thought 'cept for the man that was payin' him, and only that for necessity. Who the hell was she to make him feel as if he was wrong?
Tensing his jaw, Jayne also recalled the way she'd threatened him. Kill him with her brain. Total gosa of course but all the same, the type of gall that if anyone else had tried it they'd had his fist in their face before they'd had a chance to spit.
His hands gripped around Vera as he sat back and pondered. There was somethin' about her, that jus' din't feel right. And he knew from bitter experience when he smelt a rat -trouble followed. But the fact was, that now Mal'd got all noble about lookin' after the girl and her poncy-Doc brother, he was stuck with them both. Tricks like he pulled on Ariel were now no-go.
So he would have to find another way, he figured, to get back in control of the situation – to get back in Mal's good books…"and, gorram it, get that girl scared of me like she should."
For the time being however – it would have to wait. He'd just heard the call of Shepherd's calling the crew to dinner, so for the time being had plans to focus on a more pressing matter - filling his belly. Deftly, he sprung from his bed and made his way to the galley.
River looked up as the big one lumbered into the kitchen. As normal, she noted, he was one of the first to arrive. "Tick, tock, like a clock," she murmured to herself. The crew was full of patterns, many of which were predictable. Jayne's predilection to be first at feeding time was one such example.
She watched him out of the corner of him eye as he dragged a chair from under the table, and lowered himself into it. For his considerable mass, she noted, he moved with a rare lightness. Like an animal, she mused, ready to spring. As if on cue, his eyes darted expectantly like a big cat waiting to be fed, from the table to Book, who was preparing to serve.
By now the others were already arriving to the table, laughing and talking to each other, happy to be in each other's company. As they came in, she felt her mind soak up their feelings and echoes of their thoughts – past or present, it was hard to tell. However, she noted - whereas the others thoughts were constantly moving and overlapping, mixing in like the complex mass of connections, Jayne's mind was focused only on the steaming pot that the Shepherd was now carrying to the table.
As she picked up a piece and bread and began to chew, she caught herself wondering, mildly, why it was he was so different. At least on the surface, she knew he rarely troubled himself with questions of morality or concern for others. At least from her experiences, Jayne's thoughts revolved around only a few choice issues – money, guns, food and women. And although much of her found this repugnant, there was also something about it that offered a calming, basic simplicity.
With Jayne, she recognised, there were few ifs and buts - only survival, at all costs. The others were often pulled in ten different directions at once. Mal with his twisting and conflicting feelings towards Inara. Simon with his thoughts towards herself of equal love and resentment. Even Kaylee with he sunny nature that hid her own fears about her worth to Simon. Jayne however, only ever thought; What does this mean to me?
Although she did not know why, she found this focus, this brutal, strong sense of self - comforting.
As she mused upon this subject, she suddenly saw his eyes flash towards her, and lock into hers. At which point, again like an animal, he stopped chewing, and stared warily as if awaiting an attack. Yet River was unsurprised. She already knew Jayne was about to follow another familiar pattern.
She sat back and waited, and sure enough…"What'cha lookin at, moonbrain?" he barked.
She eyed him coolly in response, but said nothing. She already knew she needn't as any moment now… "Back off, Jayne!"...Simon would leap to her rescue. As he did so she sat back to watch the chain of events that always followed.
Jayne mouthing a series of cusswords, while rising to his feet. Simon accusing him of a lack of respect. And finally, just as Jayne was moving to throw his plate directly in Simon's face, Mal's stepping in with a low tone, stopping them in their tracks. Jayne barking back, Mal having the last word, and then Jayne turning on his heel like an angry, injured lion. Again, she mused, a predictable outcome.
No, she concluded, as she drew her eyes from Jayne's retreating bulk and back to the food on her plate, Jayne was a creature of habit. And although somehow compelling – he was no mystery, she thought. And certainly no challenge.
Jayne stormed off down to the hold, his body stiff with rage. Bad enough that he was apparently stuck on this ruttin' boat with a half-mad gun totin' girl, he had to also accept that fact that if she started sizin' him up he had to gorram well ignore it.
"They forget that last time she sized me up I ended up with a gorram knife across the chest!" he muttered to himself. "And they expect me to what – smile and engage the moonbrain in conversation? How'd that go exactly anyway – hell, yeah honey that's real interestin' - save for the fact that you're as mad as a statue-buildin' mudder."
He strode purposely down the steel stairs towards his weight block. At times such as these he knew the weights were the only thing keeping him from landing a fist on the side of someone's - maybe even Mal's - face, which he knew would mean the end of his 10, but worse still, probably another trip in the airlock. He lumped himself down under the block, lifted the bar above him, and began to flex. Up, down, up, down…
Slowly, the rhythm began to calm him. But as the minutes passed, and his attempts to focus his mind on that cute whore on that dusty rock and the things she'd done with Vera - he still couldn't shift the girls face from her mind. He imagined her face, that seemed to both challenge and berate, without speaking. That pale, ghostly face with those dark, sullen eyes.
Jayne was not a great man for self-reflection. As a result when he attempted to understand his own or even others feelings, he often found himself at worst confused and at best, bored. However this was something he accepted about himself. In his line of work, emotional awareness rarely served a purpose. Better to act and react, survive, think on your feet rather than consider what life's plan had waitin' round the corner, he reasoned. "The only plan worth figurin' out is the one that's gonna make me rich," he muttered to himself.
So why was it, that despite everything, this code that had served him so well for so long – seemed to be failing him now? There was no purpose in the girl, no practical merit- he oughta be givin' her a good ignorin', not gettin' worked up about her like some bull on heat.His brow crinkled. Whywas it that she bugged him so?Somethin' else beyond the annoyances and the mind readin' and the threats? Jayne stopped shifting his weights in mid-air as this thought came to him. "It's gotta be said, I ain't been so bothered about any one person for quite some time," he said to thin air.
"But I sure as hell ain't gone carrying on feeling like it," he continued, lowering the weight and rising to his feet. "I'm gonna put this thing to rest."
River hadbeen truly surprised when Jayne had directly approached her the following morning and engaged her in conversation. Normally he only spoke to her in yells, directing his conversation about her at Simon - as if she wasn't really a person. And he had never ever directly moved towards her, unless it had been to hold her down with those heavy arms during her less cogent moments.
But that morning, he had sidled up to her as the others were sorting through the latest cargos. More of those strange dolls with wobbly heads, she noted.
The first thing she noticed was that his body movements expressed both reticence and purpose. She had often enjoyed watching Jayne move, as he was a very physically expressive man. Each tensed muscle, each movement, conveyed a basic want, need or feeling. But until now, they almost always conveyed a single message. Now, for every step forward he made, he also seemed to pull away. This was a break in his pattern. Jayne rarely had conflictions.
And then, he had said, in a surprisingly civilised, controlled tone: "I've come to the conclusion that me an' you need to have a proper talk."
She had turned to him, tilting her head up expectantly. Her big eyes widened to meet his, and she went tospeak, but as normal found that her mind and her words only loosely conveyed her suspicion and surprise. "And thus came the end of Paradise." she replied. Immediately she felt irritated at her inability to express her thoughts. But also a little embarrassed.
Jayne stared at her blankly, before replying: "Yeah, well, how's about I talk and you jus' listen." At which point he wrapped a tanned hand around her slim forearm, and pulled her gently beneath the metal staircase.
River was shocked to feel the sudden heat of his hand on her cool skin. She was also alarmed at his attempt to lead her, and automatically resisted by pulling her arm away. He turned to her, his face poorly concealing his irritation. "Look, gorram it, I'm not gonna throw you out of the airlock or nuthin'!" he grunted.
She looked at him with a face she hoped conveyed only how unconvinced she was.
Either way, he continued: "I just figure that there's words we need to have..or well, some kind of communication…(muttering) yer gorram moonbrain.…because I'm getting mighty sick of being the bad dog round here. And it always seems I'm bad dog lately, 'cos of you."
River considered his words. She was again surprised not only at this attempt at communication, but also that he was, it seemed, addressing her as an individual. Something, she realised, she rarely experienced from the rest of the crew. To them she was mainly Simon's unpredictable little sister, or a fragile flower to be looked after.
Of which, she admitted - she was both. But she also knew she was much more, although was unable to express it, or even figure out what it was she wanted to express. She looked at Jayne expectantly, waiting for him to continue.
His face darkened as he reached a hand up to rub self-consciously on his dark goatee. "Look," he said, "I think you know how I feel about you and your brother. Well, hell I still think you're more trouble than your worth but at the end of the day Mal's payin' me and what Mal says goes…(muttering)..the cows-ass. So I'm not plannin' on pullin' and tricks… like, um, Ariel."
River narrowed her eyes at this reference to the time he had tied to betray them. As she did so, she saw Jayne's eyes hood over momentarily in an expression of guilt, although he quickly recovered and resumed his normal defiant glare. She tried hard to sense whether what he was saying was genuine.
"But I do needs to find me a way of livin' on this boat with you. So I figure we need to find a way of livin' that suits us both. 'kay?"
She looked hard into his cool eyes and nodded.
"So I'm figurin', we meet each other halfway."
The plan had come to Jayne the previous night, as he had laid alone in his bunk, listening to the quiet, steady wheeze of the ship. He knew that he could never convince Mal the girl had to go, just because she might have the Alliance on' em, and well, because she annoyed the hell out of him. Both these arguments had failed with the brother, and what's more backfired. Mal was keener'n ever to keep these strays it seemed, for reasons of his own.
However, there was chink of light. No one really understood the girl, and what she was capable of. Further, he figured, no one really wanted to. Which is why, to all sense and purposes, they were currently treatin' her like a fragile princess….or like a ticking time bomb.
Personally, he was…well, pretty sure she was little more than a schoolgirl who'd gone a bit bug-house. Kaylee's claims about the gun were just too far out. The other stuff about foolin' the bounty hunter, well she was certainly bright, as he'd give her that. But a real danger? Some kind of gorram fighter? Well, it was gosa, he told himself.
However as it was, no-one really knew either way. Which is why, he'd decided, he would find out.
If it did turn out she did have some kind of freak-ass powers, he reasoned, he'd at last have his hard evidence that she had to go, because she would be a danger. With a bit of luck, he'd suffer some minor self-injury that would easily present a decent argument that she was a bomb waiting to go off – "I mean, gorram it Mal – the moonbrain tried to shoot me!" And if she went, so did Simon.
Of course, there was also the more likely outcome that she wasn't any sort of danger. In which case, he decided, he could at least claim the glory for puttin' the others fears to rest. He'd already sensed a new atmosphere on the ship since she's started to "read minds" and started actin' like a ruttin' magnet to guns, he noticed. Jayne could be the one who saved them, he reasoned. And in his mind, he would be acting like the real gorram leader on this boat. "Hell, Jayne Cobb's a team player, " he murmured.
Sitting in his bunk in the dark, the plan had seemed both practical, and easy. He was going to train this girl how to fight, at night, with his weapons, when no one else was around. And see just what the hell she was really made of. However as he stood in the hold now, peering down at the skip of a girl, he felt a wave of guilt pass over him as she gazed at him, with what looked like actual interest in what he had to say. He wasn't too used to that with the girls.
First of all, a (very) small voice in his head questioned, was it fair to mess around with her? She's already been through hell, what with the whole cuttin' into the brain thing, the whole messed up parents and then to cap it all being stuck in a freezer box for the best part of two weeks. Oh yeah, and bein' chased by the Feds. Thinkin' about it, she'd done pretty well to hold up against all of that as it was.
However, just before he could bring himself to be impressed, Jayne pushed these doubts and sympathies out of his mind. They served no purpose. At the end of the day, he asserted, she was an unknown quantity – a possible danger, and what's more a gorram annoying one at that who has made im lookstupid a few too many times. He was gonna have the balls to do what Mal should've done weeks ago.
"So this is what I'm thinking…" he began.