Disclaimers: not mine
Spoilers: none, but follows Serenity.
A/N: follows 'Expert', 'Slippers' and 'Letter Home'. Might not make sense unless you read those first. Betaed by the fabu bugchicklv
What in the hell had every possessed him to do something so stupid? He wiped the smear of blood from his face and growled at the little spitfire he was holding as he stomped into the cargo bay.
"I'm gonna wring your skinny little neck you worthless piece of skin, if you don't knock it off right now!"
The kitten in his hands hissed back at him and bit his thumb.
"Gorramit!" he hollered. "Stop it. I'm serious. I'll kill you."
River's voice made him jump, and he looked over his shoulder in exasperation. "Can ya not be so sneaky, girl? Near to gave me a heart attack!"
She was beside him now, looking at the piece of fur in his hands as if it were an alien.
"It's a kitten," he said to her, after a few seconds of silence.
She looked at him and rolled her eyes.
He scowled. "What?"
"She has daggers in her feet," River replied. "She stabbed you with them."
"I know it," he growled. "Damn cat." He looked at the little kitten again. It had calmed down somewhat, and was starting to curl up in his open palm, tiny eyes fluttering open and shut as it tried not to fall asleep. He cupped it gently, feeling the rapid beat of its heart against his palm. Poor little thing was scared spitless.
River was leaning over his hands, tentatively reaching out and stroking the tiny head with her finger. "There's a tiger in her," she whispered as the kitten started to purr.
"You want her?" he asked River gruffly. "Couldn't find no puppies, but kittens are just as warm."
"A gift?" he knew she was smiling from the tone of her voice, even though he couldn't see her face, bent as it was over his hands. Her hair had fallen forward and was hanging like ribbon across his forearms.
"You're a gorram reader and you don't know she's for you? What kinda psychic are you?" He didn't know where the teasing tone had come from, but he didn't much care. No one was around right now anyway, 'cept him and the girl. And the furball.
"She was cold before you found her, lost and alone. No one understood her. You rescued her."
"What are you talkin' about, girl? I got her from the guy runs the general store here when I went to mail a letter. His cat just had kittens."
"Six of them," she agreed, "warm and fuzzy and milky. Sharp teeth and soft fur and knives in their feet. She was the littlest. Weak. Never enough food."
Jayne felt an uncomfortable heat across the back of his neck. "Maybe she is a mite-small, but that ain't why I picked her. Gorram thing scratched me when I was lookin' 'em over – made me bleed. Reminded me of you."
"Who you callin' a marshmallow?" he griped.
He sighed. "Fine. Don't tell no one else. Whatcha gonna name her?"
"Hasn't told me her name. She will when she feels safer."
"So now you talk to animals?"
River just looked at him.
"Fine. Better take her and put her somewhere afore the Cap'n gets back. Ya don't want him to see her while we're still grounded. Don't let no one see her while we're still grounded, ya hear me?"
She nodded her head as she slid her hands gently under the kitten. For a few seconds, he could feel the heat of them resting against his palms. Her bones were just as fragile as the kittens. They could both break if he touched them too roughly.
"You'll be careful," she whispered as she nestled the kitten against her chest. "We're tougher than we look."