PART 6 - Not Where You Live
"Home is not where you live, but where they understand you."
Jayne Cobb peeked cautiously through the dining room hatchway, then quickly ducked back out, hopin' he hadn't been seen. Okay - target acquired. Only thing left now was to suck it up an'… go get himself killed.
Gou huang tang. He'd changed his mind. Weren't no way in hell this was a good idea. He weren't goin' in there. He spun round, intending to return to his bunk.
Little Kaylee Frye stood smack dab centre of the corridor, cutting off his retreat; a tiny scowling sentry in stained coveralls and a frilly pink shirt. She put her hands on her hips and regarded him steadily.
He tried the kicked puppy face on her; seemed to work more often than not. She just glared harder and made an impatient scoot-along motion with her hand.
Apparently this was one of them 'not' times.
"Aww, come on, girl. T'ain't fair, me goin' in all unguarded. I'll be an open target." His hand twitched convulsively at his side, wishing for a weapon, or maybe a pair of bullet-proof pants. He wondered for a brief crazy moment whether he could use the Shepherd's bible as a shield. "I got parts need protectin'."
Kaylee's eyes flicked down below his waistband, then back up to meet his own. She looked a smidge worried now. "Oh. I hadn't thought o' that."
Jayne nodded emphatically. "Uh-huh. See there, you should go first. Clear the way."
The young mechanic chewed on her lower lip. Kind of made him want to do the same.
"Alright," she agreed. "But you gotta be right behind me, or this ain't gonna play any way but bad. We gotta stay united elsewise it's gonna go south real quick."
"What's goin' south?"
The voice came clear out of nowhere, causing both the mechanic and the usually-more-alert mercenary to start guiltily.
"We aren't set to crash, are we?" Mal continued, stepping out into the corridor and peering back and forth from one to the other. He didn't miss the rapid shot 'look' that flashed between them neither. He wasn't near as blind as Inara claimed he was, and these two struck him as mighty jumpy. His eyes narrowed on Jayne in particular. "You done somethin' I should know about?"
Did makin' the Doc choke on his own medicine count? Jayne blanked. His mouth hung slightly open as he tried to think of a comeback. "Uh…"
Kaylee took matters into her own hands, thumping her Captain soundly on the arm.
"Ow…Hey!" Mal whimpered and rubbed at the injury, staring at her all betrayed-like. Anyone would've thought she'd up and shot him.
"Why do you always gotta do that?" she demanded, all bristled up like a ferocious tiger goddess protectin' her cub – like Jayne's very own Xi Wang-mu.
"Do what?" Mal glanced back at Jayne who was grinning at her antics. "You been encouragin' these violent tendencies?"
Kaylee hit him again. "That! There! Why for you always gotta assume Jayne's done wrong?"
"Because he usually has?"
Jayne chuckled. "Ain't that the truth?"
Kaylee turned them fiery five-spice eyes back on him. "Not helping," she hissed.
"Oh. Right." Jayne straightened and cleared his throat. "Thing is, Mal, me n' Kaylee need to have a talk with ya."
Jayne shuffled his feet, unaccountably nervous. "Oh, you know, this 'n that. Birds and the bees."
"Birds and…" Mal blinked, the implications of that particular statement registering all manner of wrong. "Wo de tien ah. No." He pointed a disapproving finger at them. "No, no. This is not happening on my boat."
"No use for it, Cap. 'S already happened." Jayne reached for Kaylee's hand and she didn't hesitate to give it. United – just like she said. "Us here's a done deal," he continued. "We just thought it'd be better if'n you knew 'bout it upfront this time. Mostly upfront, anyhow."
Mal blinked some more and then stormed off toward the bridge without another word.
Lord help him, even their voices were in harmony.
He took the steps two at a time, ignoring their calls, and slumped into the co-pilot's chair.
Kaylee and Jayne? His mind fair boggled. How in the percolating bowels of hell…?
Maybe he was blind after all. He for sure hadn't seen this coming. Wasn't like they'd shown any real interest in each other since those first weeks after Jayne'd hired on – at least Kaylee hadn't, Jayne's interest had lingered a fair degree longer. After he'd told them in no uncertain terms that such fraternizing wouldn't be tolerated, it had all seemed to run out of steam. And that was a long while ago now. Last he knew his mechanic and the Doc were still trippin' the light fandango.
"All over now, baby blue." River didn't even bother to turn around, concentrating instead on the endless black canvas beyond her viewscreen.
"Stalled on the runway, couldn't even get off the ground. Simon's spark didn't catch." She locked the control panel and glanced over, dark eyes wise and knowing. "The loyal swan has been waiting in the wings. On the backburner, simmering. It's the slow burn that lasts the longest."
No use pretending ignorance on this score. "Generally leaves a bigger scar, too."
He glanced over his shoulder where the unlikely couple were still whispering to each other back in the corridor. Jayne was scowling. He looked up and met Mal's eyes, then began heading in his direction.
"I ain't done talkin' at you," the merc announced, barrelling through the entry.
Mal swung his seat around to face him, tipping it back and folding his arms. "How long you been on this boat now, Jayne?"
The big man paused. You could almost see him sliding beads on the abacus in his head. "Are you wantin' a specific number on that or…?"
"In that time, I ever once give you the impression I'd allow leeway on disobeyin' orders?"
Jayne stepped closer, looming overhead like imminent death. Made a man feel somewhat at a disadvantage when he did that.
"Damn it, Mal! This ain't got nothin' to do with orders. You can't… It's Kaylee… she's…" Jayne's hands flexed like he was trying to snatch the elusive words out of thin air. "…She's home. Do you get that? Don't matter none if'n we's flyin' on this boat or planetside on some ruttin' dustbowl, she is what's home to me."
There was sound akin to a great sobbing gasp from behind the mercenary, and they suddenly remembered that the girl herself had been standing there the whole time.
"Oh!" She lunged forward and flung her arms around Jayne's middle, her cheek pressed between his shoulder blades. "Ain't that the sweetest thing you ever heard in your life?"
River smiled at the other girl indulgently, nodding. "Like treacle. Or pudding." She looked at Jayne and a very adult gleam lit in her eye that had no place there. "Sticky," she murmured. "Hot and sticky."
Kaylee giggled. "Oh, yeah. Real hot."
Mal shuddered and made a face like he'd swallowed somethin' awful.
Jayne scowled, torn 'tween bein' disgusted, embarrassed and proud all at once. Kaylee's hands were clutching at his belly, leaving fingerprint smudges on his second-favourite shirt. He put one of his own hands over hers, engulfing them entirely, and looked Mal square in the eye.
"Ya can't bust this up, Mal. No way. You try, an' one or other of us is gonna end up dead or shot so fulla holes he'd be wishin' on it. I'm tellin' you now, straight out – it ain't likely ta be me."
"You're truly prepared to fight me on this, willin' to take that chance?"
"Yes." Tense, but controlled; Jayne was holdin' himself tight as a steel drum.
If anything, Mal felt worse knowing that Jayne was serious about Kaylee. And when was it exactly that the man had evolved? 'Cause there was no doubting that he had. The fact that he'd failed to notice such a miraculous transformation made him wonder if his captaining skills were somehow deficient.
Kaylee poked her head around the mercenary's arm, eyes big and shining. "We both are."
His mechanic actin' unconcerned on the prospect of gunplay? Well, that there was the clincher on this deal. Couldn't rightly argue with that kind of conviction. Besides, if there was one thing in the 'Verse he was disinclined to do, it was crush the hopes of a happy smiley-faced Kaylee. He hadn't bothered her about chasin' the Doc overmuch, after all.
"Well, I can't speak to how this has been the most pleasurable of surprises, mei mei, but you're a full-grown woman who knows her own mind, though it seems you're even less apt to turn down a challenge than I am…" He glanced behind them to where Inara stood, watching intently. How he'd known she was there, he couldn't quite account for. "And, as you've advised me more'n once, I ain't your Daddy, so I've no power on who-so-ever you choose to take up with."
Mal nodded at Inara's approving smile, lingered a moment to watch her walk away, then wheeled his chair back around to face the oncoming black. "Now, that's settled. I don't want to hear any more about it, much less see anything, so…" He waved a dismissive hand. "Get out. I got Captainy things need attendin' to."
"Liar." River smiled serenely at the sharp glare she received for that statement.
Mal appeared to want to argue more, but became mindful that he still had a gob-smacked audience. He raised questioning brows at them. "Why're you still here? Conversation's finished, dong ma?"
"Did that just happen?" Kaylee asked once they'd regrouped out in the passage.
"Reckon the Cap's gone n' lost what marbles he had that wasn't scrambled."
"So…" She reached out and took Jayne's hand in her own, tracing patterns up and down his long fingers. "What now?"
Jayne gazed into her eyes for a spell, lost in the tasty swirl of cinnamon and coffee. Girl plumb warmed him on the inside when she looked at him like that. "I got me a couple ideas."
That deep voice was more purr than growl, and she flushed some at the sound of it. He barely needed to do more to set her reeling; he'd already won her heart with his words, her body weren't far behind. "Did ya really mean all that, what you said?"
Jayne stepped into her space, pressing her against the bulkhead by her bunk. His eyes were aglow, fairy-light reflections dancing in lambent blue. "Sure enough did. Every bit."
The big man scowled, got all puffed up indignant that she'd dare doubt his sincerity. "Look, I ain't one for that sissified versification Doc prob'ly used…"
His jaw tightened at the interruption, but he went on regardless. "An' I'm not well known for bein' particularly soft or charmful…"
Kaylee shook her head. Stupid mule-headed man couldn't tell port-side from starboard even with a chart in his hand.
Her hands moved down his abdomen in a deceptively casual dance, until she was tugging the hem of his blue T-shirt from his belted waist. She liked him in blue, almost as much as liked him out of it.
"In case ya didn't notice," she said. "I ain't expectin' ya to be anything of the sort. You ain't Simon. I don't want you ta be. Besides, none of that worked anyhow." She made a 'take a look around' gesture. "He ain't here. You are."
Jayne leant in, got almost impossibly closer. "I noticed."
She giggled. "Jayne, is that a bible in your pocket, or…"
"Could be I'm just happy." His hand smacked the button to open the hatch of her bunk. "Reckon that's a mystery you need to investigate."
"Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts."
Oliver Wendell Holmes