Title: Slippers

Author: michmak

Disclaimers: not mine.

A/N: this is mostly just a dialogue piece, and not much else. Just playing around a little bit.


River is walking around in her bare feet again, and it's starting to drive him a little crazy, truth be told. He's sitting at the self-same-table where Doc has told her – repeatedly – why it's important to wear shoes, or boots. Her feet are thin and dainty. Need protectin', from the dirt and grease residue a ship this old seems to have embedded into it. Plus, you never know what could be lying around. What if she steps on something and slices her foot open, what then? Girl won't be movin' around so fluid and graceful-like if she has her feet all bandaged up and damaged. Stupid girl.

He tries to ignore her when she plops into the chair kitty-corner from him. She is watching him, and he's beginning to squirm a bit, like the bugs used to squirm under his brother's magnifying glass when he was a kid. Her eyes are hot, like the sun.

"What?" he finally snaps.

"Don't mean to incinerate you," she replies, which – really – what type of an answer is that?

"Incinerwho?" he growls. "Speak English, girl."

"You are an inferno. Filled with lava."

"And you're crazy," he mutters. "Crazier than crazy."

"My feet are cold."

"Put on some gorram shoes, then! Whaddaya expect 'em to be? Ship's made of metal and we're out in space. This ain't a beach."

She lifts her feet off the floor as he's talking to her and plops them in his lap, under the table. "Foot warmer." She grins at him when he startles, "Hot water bottle."

"Nut-bar," he responds. But he doesn't push her feet from his lap. He can feel how cold they are through the fabric of his pants, stretched tight across his thighs.

"Almonds and cashews," she agrees.

He starts cleaning one of his guns. "Prefer peanuts, myself," he offers.

"Happiness is a warm puppy."

He looks at her askance, "What's that got to do with anything? Puppies..."

He's muttering, and River giggles. "You're a good man, Charlie Brown."

"It's Jayne, you idjit. Get it right."

"Me Tarzan."

"You're outta your tree, girl." He glances up at her. "Wanna help me clean my guns?"

"Not supposed to touch guns," she replies. "Captain says no."

"Yeah, well, he ain't here, is he? Besides, you plannin' on shooting me?" He grins when she shakes her head at him emphatically. "Well, there you go, then. I trust ya. Take this one – needs a bit of oilin'."

The barrel of the gun he slides to her is thicker than her wrist, and it looks like she could fit her entire hand through the trigger-guard. She looks at it warily, before she reaches out and takes it.

"Don't worry, there're no bullets in it. I always take 'em out afore I clean 'em. I ain't stupid ya know."

"This one's killed a lot of people," she whispers. Her fingers are caressing the barrel.

"Guns don't kill people, girl. I kill people." He grins rakishly as he says this, before adding, "But only if'n they deserve it or try to kill me first."

"Me too. I'm a gun."

"You ain't a gun. You're a girl. There's a difference, ya know."

She smiles at him when he says this. "You think I'm a girl?"

"Aint'cha? Guns don't have hair, and they don't wear dresses, and they don't ask questions or talk crazy. They don't walk around the gorram ship in bare feet, neither."

"Don't have feet to walk in," she agrees earnestly.

"Exactly so."

He goes back to cleaning his weapons, watching her covertly as she starts mimicking his actions. Oil, wipe, smooth, caress. The movements are repetitive and calming. He doesn't remember ever being so relaxed, sitting at the table surrounded by weapons with a pair of cold feet in his lap. She seems relaxed too, her smile faint and her tiny face glowing. She is humming a song as she cleans his gun, and her voice ain't half bad.

Finally, after a while, when the guns are clean and shiny, he asks her, "Why you always gotta wander around with bare feet?"

She shrugs, "Cinderella is waiting for her Prince to bring her slippers."

"Huh?"

"Cinderella. Slippers. Something that fits. And then she'll be a princess."

"Ya don't wear shoes 'cause of some gorram fairy tale?" His hand has drifted down as they talk, fingers running big and gentle across the top of one foot, sliding around the arch, before he picks it up. Her heel is cracked and dry, the skin on the bottom so black from grit it stains his hand.

Sighing, he grabs the flannel he was using earlier with his free hand. The gun oil helps remove most of the grime and leaves her foot slightly shiny. When he's finished with one, he replaces it with the other. All he can smell is her and the gun oil. In the silence all he hears is her gentle breathing and the sound of his own heart pounding against his ribcage.

He drops the cloth back on the table when he's done, and slides the foot he was cleaning easily into the palm of his hand.

"Look," she whispers, and wiggles her toes. "It fits."

fin