Part One – Masculine Wiles
They didn't meet straight off.
Kaylee'd stepped down into the cargo bay, just in time to see his back end goin' out t'wards the kitchen. All she could tell from the glimpse she got was that he weren't average-sized none.
"Man's hungry," the Captain commented, nodding at the doorway. "Ain't been eaten fit servin's for a month or more." There was a pause before he added dryly, "Don't seem none the worse for it though. Still the biggest, meanest gorram tracker I ever saw."
Kaylee didn't much like the sound of that. Big an' mean weren't her cup of oolong. She knew there had to be a grain o' truth to what he said on account that Mal didn't hardly lie to her, and that he'd specifically been on the lookout for some extra muscle since he got shot up on Whitefall a while back, but she weren't one to make assumptions 'bout how someone ought to be took on first appearance.
She reckoned to follow said tracker to see for herself.
He whipped 'round from starin' all lost-like at the table when she come in behind, and she gasped like she'd had her breath knocked clean out, her eyes eating him up like she was the one starvin'.
Sweet Buddha, but he was swai. Taller'n her pa and built real solid, the sort her dear ol' grandmammy would've called 'a strapping lad'. Not that he was laddish in any way. No, this specimen was every inch a man.
Thick muscles rippled and rolled along his tanned arms, stretched out the chest and shoulders of his tight blue T-shirt like they had a life of their own. Her gaze shifted from the breadth of that undulatin' landscape down a trim middle and long, powerful legs, takin' in with awe how the gunstrap 'round his thigh was stretched taut with the strain of holdin' on. Though, why that spectacle brought to mind memories of Uncle Deak's prize bull was a mite inexplicable...
He cleared his throat and her wide eyes shot to his face. She made a rapid-shot catalogue of his features; hard jaw and full soft lips, a nose that was straight and button cute. Damn. It weren't fair on a body, him bein' so unexpected fine, her respiratory system was near to shuttin' down altogether.
"Hi," she squeaked.
"Hey." They stared at each other for a full five seconds 'fore he broke contact and scratched at his scruffy dark head. "Uh… So, where ya hidin' the grub?"
"Oh!" Kaylee pivoted real sharp and dived for the cooler, glad to hide her flamin' red face. Gladder even for a chance to get her breath back so she'd sound somethin' more like normal when she spoke again. "Sorry 'bout that. What'd ya have a mind for? We got all sorts…"
She glanced over her shoulder and caught him tracking the shape of her rear neath her coveralls. She made sure to bobble up and down a little bit ta test the waters, see if he was inclined to take the bait.
He sighed, a great big gusty breath, makin' all them muscles ripple with the effort. Didn't look away, though. "Yeah, whatever ya pick'd be okay. I'm easy pleased."
His voice was the gruff growl of a grizzly bear, deep and low and dangerous. The sound of it pricked at her skin like a homespun knit pullover, made her sweat and itch. To cover that scarifyin' reaction, she snagged a frozen dinner pack quick as she could and headed for the heatpad.
Mal strolled in, his clever eyes darting back and forth between them. "You all introduced yourselves yet?"
The big man twitched like a guilty boy caught fossicking in a cookie jar. "Well, not in a formal way or nothin'." He ducked his head some and then gazed back up at her through his lashes like he was shy.
She got struck by his eyes, blue-grey gleamin' like gunmetal in that fierce handsome face. "Ain't got ta that part yet," was all she said. She smiled at the tracker. If he was really as mean as Mal said, weren't no way his eyes'd be so pretty. "I'm Kaylee."
"Kaywinnit Lee Frye," the Captain clarified. "Best little ship's mechanic in the 'Verse."
The big man raised his brows. "That true?"
Kaylee shrugged. "I just fix what's broke, is all."
"Huh." He smiled back at her then, crinklin' those pretty eyes at the corners and flashin' a full set of pearly whites. Weren't no snaggle-toothed pirate leastways, that was a good sign. "Best be keepin' a close eye on ya then, so's we don't all end up floatin' 'round the black with our brains leakin' out our ears."
Kaylee blinked. Okay, so maybe he was a little rough 'round his edges. She could work with that. She was good at fixin' used and worn parts so they ran smooth, most times even better than new.
"Well, can't say I've ever envisaged that possibility." The Captain paused and sniffed, almost dainty, then squinted at the heatpad. "You makin' that fare 'specially crispified for a reason?"
"Oh!" Kaylee reached for the burning pack before she could even think on it an' the liquified plaz-wrap melted to her fingers like it was tryin' to make a hermetic seal. "Ow!" She shook her hand all frantic, tryin' to cool it.
Mal started forward, but he weren't even a half-step closer before Kaylee found herself pressed back-on to a great muscled chest and bein' manoeuvred t'wards the sink. She plum forgot all about her burn. Forgot the Captain and the grub, too.
"Ah, hell, why'd ya go do a yu bun duh thing like that for?" the big tracker's voice rumbled neath her ear. "Git some damp on that pronto. Ain't no call gettin' yourself all blistered up." He surrounded her like a protective wrapper, held her tender and rinsed her hand under the cool stream like it was a delicate china cup, payin' no heed whatever to the grease stains under her nails. His thumb stroked the inside of her wrist. "Hows'it feel? It hurtin' ya any?"
"Nah, it's…" Kaylee swallowed, fightin' back the urge to shiver. That thumb o' his was callused from labour, the rough texture makin' her nerve endings sit up and take notice. Not to mention the oversupply of masculine wiles warmin' her back. "…It's g-good, thanks. I'm real good."
His mouth curved just the smallest bit at her words. "Yeah. I bet y'are," he murmured.
Kaylee smiled a teeny bit herself. She glanced up, way up, and set her eyes on the line of his stubbly jaw, realizin' as she did that the top of her head didn't reach anywhere close to his shoulder.
Oh yeah, he was tall alright. Strong and solid too, not unlike Serenity herself, just perfect for relyin' on in times of trouble. She liked that, liked it a whole lot.
"Here, put this on it." Mal's hand appeared in her front-view of a sudden, a fresh weave dangling from his fingers. He must've been clear out to the infirmary 'n back and they'd never even noticed he'd gone.
Kaylee wanted turn round and smack him for buttin' in, but the spell was broke all the same and the tracker's focus shifted back onto the subject of food.
"Ya got forks?" he asked, moving away. "Can't contend with them ruttin' choppysticks…"
Kaylee flung out her good hand, latching on to a steel-hard forearm. He stilled, as only a predator can, his eyes dancin' a rhythm back 'n forth twixt her hand and her face.
"Never did catch yer name," she whispered.
He relaxed and grinned, sort of shrewd, like he had the key to the biggest mystery in the whole 'Verse right there in his pocket.
"Name's Jayne," he told her. "Jayne Cobb."