Training with a Twist (Part Two)
Back in the cargo bay…
"He's not trying to fight with her!"
"That's cuz I don't want to fight with ya! Whatever Mal thinks, I do already know how to fight! After all, I ain't dead yet!"
"Obviously, his lack of mortality is merely a statistical anomaly!"
"A static mole what?" asked Jayne curiously, voice lowering.
"An accident," amended River.
"Not bein' dead ain't no accident. Plenty of people have tried to kill me, and I beat 'em all."
"She cannot imagine how." The girl replied while she turned away with a flounce. She did not even bother glancing at him as she blithely observed, "He couldn't even concentrate long enough to learn one simple maneuver. Obviously, he is too easily distracted."
"I concentrate on the job," snarled the mercenary with a finger jab to the crazy girl's proffered back. If she wouldn't face him like a gorram man, she deserved what she got. "I'd be dead if I didn't."
Aggrieved by his rough treatment, River spun around and repeatedly stabbed a slender finger into his unyielding chest as she fumed, "That is why it is an accident he is not currently communing with nature from the underside."
Jayne's eyes narrowed. "Is that some fancy ass way of sayin' pushin' up daisies?"
"Yes," hissed River.
The mercenary glared down into her face, frustrated by her escalatin' anger. Her temper flared quickly around him, but usually left just as fast. Why wasn't she calmin' down yet? He searched her mutinous face until he recognized a hint of jealous pique behind the resentment in her eyes. Really! That was new. He could use that. Eyebrows risin' in glee, he practically bounced on his toes as he crowed, "You're just mad cuz I ignored ya."
"Not the only reason," muttered the pilot as her chin dropped, allowing her knotted hair to cover her face once more. She recognized his amusement at her righteous anger, but refused to let him believe that his casual disregard had the power to upset her so.
Struck down from his momentary height, Jayne scowled. He did not like bein' usurped. Weren't no one else she should be mad at but him. He was the one who'd pushed all her bitty buttons. Gorramit. His scowl twisted into more of a pout. "Well… what's the other reason?"
River mumbled without raising her head, "Captain Daddy trusted her enough to ask for her assistance and expertise, yet she couldn't fulfill his simple request because Jayne refused to work with her."
Aw, hell. Why did she have to go and get all girly when he was finally havin' some fun? The mercenary scratched the back of his head. Peerin' intently at his toes, he offered, "That ain't true. I just… I got blindsided by the whole schoolin' thing. It didn't have nothin' to do with ya." He peeked up at her through his eyelashes, but couldn't distinguish her expression through her hair. Sighin', he hoped she would forgive him soon because he felt some beggin' comin' on, and Jayne Cobb never begged a woman for anything, especially not a moonbrained girl of a woman.
Declining to accept his near apology, River kept her eyes trained to the ground. When her half-bound hair began to torment her nose, she angrily reached up and attempted to rip the hairclip from the nest atop her head.
"Stop it. Ya'll pull your hair out," growled Jayne, when his gaze followed her movement. His hands instinctively moved to assist her efforts.
The girl simply turned her back, brushing him off, and continued tearing at the barrette.
Exasperated, Jayne grabbed her wrists and forced her hands away from her head. When she glared up at him, he ordered, "Stop it. I'll get it."
River frowned at the merc but did not attempt to damage him for touching her once again. Taking her inaction as encouragement, he warily released her wrists and stepped closer for easier access.
As his large fingers untangled her silky hair with gentle efficiency, Jayne grumbled, "Why ya got your hair up like this anyways? And wearin' one of your flimsier dresses? Ain't good for a fight."
"She was not aware she would require an outfit better suited for combat. So she allowed Simon to choose her ensemble." The girl shrugged. "He wanted her to be pretty today."
The mercenary scowled, glowerin' darkly at the thought of the doctor's insensitivity. "You're pretty every day. When is your brother gonna figure out clothes can't change that?"
River smiled shyly at his bulging bicep as warmth stole across her face and drifted down to pool in her belly. As Jayne continued to methodically disentangle her hair, she unconsciously leaned on his pleasantly firm chest, and he, in turn, instinctively shifted his stance in support.
The romance-minded mechanic just about swooned off the catwalk, melting at the sweetness. The tough former soldier and highly experienced Companion were practically puddles themselves. The women were thrilled Mal and Simon had finally left so the unaware romancing could resume. Kaylee grinned. This was way better than soap vids on the Cortex. Still needed some snacks though.
"Why's Mal got a bee in his bonnet about this anyways? We could have done it anytime in the past few months, and it ain't like the next job is tough or nothin'."
Soothed by the tenderness of his calloused fingers, River experienced no recurrence of offense at the mercenary's persistent disdain for today's activities. After all, now that Mal, Simon, and the specter of education had left the bay, his entire attention was focused on her. Evidently, the inattentiveness was their fault. She must remember to torment them later for the disorder. "Captain Daddy has not divulged his secrets to her."
Jayne frowned at the thought of the moonbrain sharing secrets with the Captain. She could discover them all scheming-like but not share. "Mal don't tell no one nothin'." And he'd better keep it that way, too.
Distantly mindful of the women still on the catwalk, the merc leaned down closer to the girl's ear and whispered, "Ya don't think this is… the thing, do ya?"
Forcing her drooping eyes open, River blinked sluggishly at his t-shirt. "No. Of course not, why would this be the thing?"
Jayne shrugged. "Dunno. Just sorta explained why Mal was all orderin' and why your witless brother was all agreein'. The Doc barely tolerates you snipin' far away from the bad guys. Seems awful weird he'd agree to this li'l idea."
"It is odd."
"That's why I thought it might be the thing."
"No, too simple. The thing is complex, twisting, still indeterminate."
His dexterous fingers paused mid-barrette rescue. "Hunh?"
"Can't figure out the thing because it is not fully matured, remains in a state of flux. When the plans are settled, the thing will be clear."
Gently disentanglin' the last few strands of hair from the clip, Jayne observed, "Mal ain't one for makin' workable plans, and unless the thing involves breakin' you in or outta some hospital, Simon ain't neither."
"Should conspire with Zoe, Kaylee, and Inara."
"Yeah, but they ain't gonna cuz Mal likes to get shot and Simon likes to patch him up. Makes 'em both feel all useful and manly."
Grabbing the sides of the mercenary's t-shirt, River buried her nose in the center of his chest and giggled.
Jayne's snicker transformed into a boyish grin.
Zoe and Inara instantaneously clamped their hands over Kaylee's mouth, smothering her excited squeal.
After pressin' the freed clip into the girl's still clutchin' hand, Jayne began a thorough finger-combin' of her messy hair. Frownin', he reminded, "We still gotta do somethin' about this trainin' go se or Mal'll be all thundery at dinner."
"Yes," sighed River as she rested her cheek on the hired gun's broad chest, mindlessly snuggling further into him during his pleasurable ministrations.
Jayne rolled his eyes and jiggled her to get a more helpful response. He did not however even pause in his self-appointed handmaiden's task, as he carefully separated and arranged her smooth hair down her long, slim back.
River pouted, and her hands slid down to twist in the soft fabric clinging to his waist. "He refused to learn from her."
Grimacin' at his own stupidity for both doin' it and then bringin' it back up, Jayne skipped past the minefield and suggested, "Well, we'll just do somethin' else cuz that was too… still. Made me sleepy." All warm and comfy, coulda curled up right there on the deck for a nap.
"Something less stationary?" River perked up. The merc did hate waiting. She should have remembered and chosen something more dynamic.
"Yeah, somethin' where I get to move around. Get my blood pumpin'."
"But that would be actual fighting, and he said he did not wish to fight with her."
Jayne shrugged, tryin' to release the reignitin' anger at this whole stupid gorram idea of Mal's. "Yeah. But what else are we gonna do?"
River closed her eyes as she searched for a fighting lesson that contained no fighting. There had to be some way to tweak his combat capabilities without any actual combative engagement with her. Suddenly, inspiration hit. She opened her eyes and beamed up at him. "Dancing."
Eyebrows furrowin' in confusion, Jayne finally stepped back from her, tuckin' the last ribbons of hair behind her ears as he went. His lip curled as if newly questionin' her sanity. "Dancin'?"
Kaylee bounced excitedly on the catwalk as Zoe and Inara's eyebrows shot up in silent laughter. This latest matchmaking scenario had progressed quite unpredictably. It was almost too bad Mal and Simon were never likely to know how well this scheme was playing out.
Nodding her head vigorously, River earnestly enumerated the benefits, "Fighting without fighting. Have to move without thinking about the next step but still knowing what the next ten steps are plus knowing not only what his partner is doing but what everyone else on the dance floor is doing as well. Form, movement and perception, but no blood."
"He does not comprehend the comparison because he does not know how to dance. She can show him." The pilot stepped forward snatching eagerly at the hired gun's hands.
Evadin' her grasp, Jayne backed away. "I know how to dance. My ma didn't raise no heathens."
River slanted a skeptical eyebrow. "She has never seen him dance."
"That's because, unlike a certain li'l flibbertigibbet, I don't choose to dance."
"She is not a flibbertigibbet nor will she be distracted by name calling. If he can dance, he must show her. Otherwise, she will disbelieve him."
Jayne's eyes narrowed. "You callin' me a liar?"
"She has not been presented with evidence of the truthfulness of his assertion. Therefore she cannot verify his veracity."
"If he dances with her, she will know he is honest." River moved closer and held up her hands to begin.
"I'm always--" When the girl's eyebrow peaked even higher, Jayne abruptly terminated his rather rash statement. "Fine, but I will hate it the entire time."
As he stepped forward to assume the starting position, River frowned, dropped her hands and turned her back to him. "His day has already been bad enough. She will not make him do something else he hates." Maybe he simply hated activities which involved her. She bit her lip. Ignoring the roaring distress in her ears and the spike in her chest, she added as calmly as possible, "She has no more educational concepts, and must go apologize to Captain Daddy for her inability to formulate an appropriate lesson plan."
Jayne blinked bewilderedly at the girl's back. "What? Mal'll just be tetchy if ya do that. Besides, I ain't proved nothin' yet. We gotta dance first." Gorram it, what the ruttin' hell was wrong now?
"She will simply believe Jayne because he told her he could dance and he has, to her knowledge, not been dishonest to her of late." Keeping her back to him, she began to move away from his tall form and out of the cargo bay.
"Well, ain't that comfortin'," grumbled the mercenary. He grabbed a hold of the girl's elbow as she tried to skirt past him. "I ain't lettin' ya go until we dance. You said I had to prove it, and I will. So dance."
"Gorramit, why not?" demanded Jayne as he pulled River around to face him and promptly wished he hadn't when he saw her blink back tears. His skin heated up and his toes clenched. Maximum damage. Gorramit.
She dropped her gaze to the ground and sniffled. "Because he said he would hate it, and she will not compel him to do anything else he would hate."
He shuffled his suddenly restless feet and rubbed a hand around his flushin' neck. He wanted to holler real loud and then hole up in his room, but couldn't leave the girl in this state. Her tears were his fault, and he had turn off the tap. "It ain't like before. That's stuff ya shouldn't… It ain't right what they crammed into your brain against your will. Dancin's alright though, cuz it's stuff ya wanted to learn. And it ain't that I would mind dancin' with you. I just hate dancin' in general."
Tears fading a bit, River lifted wide dark eyes to the merc's bright nervous blue. "He would not engage her in preparatory combat because the knowledge was not gained through her own volition?"
Noddin' anxiously, Jayne stumbled to explain, "I was real angry-like about it all of the sudden, and didn't want to accidentally take it out on ya when we was tusslin'."
She gnawed on her lip for a moment then tentatively inquired, "He would not mind dancing with her?"
"Nah, not with you. It's just that dancin' makes me feel like I'm twelve and back at some church social. Halfway through one step, all I can smell is old lady. Don't matter where I am or who I'm tryin' to dance with."
"His dance partners smelled like old lady?"
"My ma used to make me partner with the widows who didn't have no one to dance with. They all had this old lady smell of powder and medicine and dusty flowers. Can't clear that outta my mind."
After that poignant exchange, Kaylee nearly ran down to hug the life out of the big brute, but aware of the delicacy of the moment, determined instead to randomly ask him to do things for her so she could constantly hug him in overenthusiastic thanks. Inara and Zoe continued to restrain the impetuous younger woman, but they too were hard pressed to retain their dispassionate countenances at the brusque man's touching exposure. If they thought the scene could properly play on without them, the women would have covertly retreated to leave the innocently bonding couple alone. However, Mal or Simon could pop up at any time and inadvertently scare the pair back into their lonely hidey-holes. So they maintained their guardianship, remaining there to turn the tide if necessary.
"Scent memory is very strong," assured River as she soothingly petted the ill at ease man's arms. "They don't have to dance. She'll think of something else for them to do that will satisfy Captain Daddy's requirements."
Shakin' his head, Jayne refused her soft offer. "Nah, we need to do somethin' today before Mal throws a tantrum, and if ya think dancin' will work, then we'll dance." He frowned. "Ain't never tried to dance without music though."
Afraid the prickly mercenary might back out again, Inara calmly suggested, "I'm certain I have something appropriate in my shuttle."
The women held their breaths as the instant elongated while waiting for the pair's response. Fortunately, the lethal couple startled but did no more than reflexively clasp each other's arms.
Sensing no opposition or judgment from the women, River's hands relaxed and she smiled gratefully. She knew they would see how beneficial this new scheme was for Jayne's training and wouldn't blindly hinder the lesson as Mal or Simon would have. The women onboard were much calmer than the men.
The entire female crew of Serenity shared understanding smiles.
"I will be back in one minute."
As the Companion swiftly strode to her shuttle, Jayne stared up at the women. He'd plum forgotten they were still there. They hadn't heard everything, had they? He squinted suspiciously.
Zoe manufactured a carefully neutral expression of near boredom to throw off any notion of overly, detailed scrutiny. Kaylee smiled widely but rather vaguely as she had whipped a broken engine part out of her overalls and was tinkering with it in hopes of them not noticing the dreamy glint in her eyes. They both knew the explosive pair was likely to skedaddle if they comprehended the intensity of the surveillance.
Inara reappeared quickly, carrying a portable music player and three pillows. She handed a pillow each to Zoe and Kaylee then gracefully sat upon her own. She set the player down and turned it on, filling the cargo bay with the melody of a simple, classic waltz.
Jayne and River tilted their heads in unison as they contemplated the women's nesting. Simultaneously, they dropped their hands and stepped away from each other, instinctively retreating from observation.
Tryin' to halt the retreat, Kaylee nonchalantly waved off any curiosity about the couple's actions. "'Nara and I don't wanna get any closer to Simon and Mal's meal preparation than we gotta." She laughed, "Easier to eat that way. So's we're just gonna sit here and keep Zoe company cuz Captain Tightpants left her here to be all first matey in charge. Y'all go back to what ya were doin' whiles we enjoy the shiny music 'Nara brought out for ya."
After the mechanic's impromptu speech, the women deliberately distanced themselves from the goings-on down on the bay floor. Kaylee swung her legs in time to the music but her gaze fell back to the part in her hands. Inara began filing her nails, and Zoe's posture altered to display impassive command.
Put at ease by the artless maneuvering, the deadly duo gingerly resumed their previous discussion. After all, the women on the catwalk hadn't interfered yet. Besides, this training wasn't the least bit interesting to anyone.
Kaylee peeked out from beneath her lashes and licked her lips in anticipation.
Attempting to regain the mercenary's full attention, River queried, "When was the last time he tried to dance?"
Eyebrows twistin' in concentration, Jayne recalled, "Been a while. I guess I wasn't yet fourteen. I tried to dance with Mary Sue Smith. She was sixteen and she had…" As he began to describe dear Mary Sue with cupped hands, his laughin' eyes met River's narrowed gaze forcin' him to gulp down his original words. "Well, she was mature for her age. Very mature. She smelled all perfumed and girly until the dance started then wham she smelled like old lady. Made me nauseous. So we quit dancin' and found something else to do." Without thinking, Jayne grinned lasciviously in recollection until his gaze fell on River's unimpressed face again. That grin dropped right off his face as he, once more, rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and scuffled his boots together.
She inquired disapprovingly, "Not yet fourteen?"
He shrugged then grinned and chuckled. "Well, I was mature for my age, too." With a waggle of his eyebrows to outrage her, Jayne stepped forward, clasped her waist and hand, and set off at a very slow waltz.
With the couple's attention safely withdrawn once more, Inara surreptitiously slid a vid-camera from an inside pocket of her robe and braced it against the outside of her thigh. Kaylee shifted her knee to accommodate the recorder then propped her engine part in front of the device but left the lens clear. Zoe kept lookout for any sudden movements by the dancers.
Turning her face away from the impolite oaf's, River followed his directions stiffly but refused to raise her hand to his shoulder. She didn't care what he was doing when he was not yet fourteen or with whom. It was merely the principle of the matter. At that age, she was considering learning opportunities which were expected to facilitate her development into a productive member of society; he was merely having fun. And, she really didn't care with whom he was having fun. Her lower lip puffed out dangerously.
Intent on rememberin' the correct steps, the merc bent his head and watched their feet pace evenly across the grates on the bay floor. He tried not to notice the girl's frosty manner. Didn't bother him at all that she was snubbin' him despite the fact that he held her properly and they was dancin' like she'd demanded. What did he care if the moonbrain was mad at him again? Happened all the gorram time. An involuntary muscle twitch at his temple belied his carefully blanked face.
After completin' a small circuit around a grate, Jayne suddenly realized something and looked up at River. He grinned excitedly down at her as he exclaimed, "Hey, you don't smell like old lady!"
Raising a dainty eyebrow, River glanced askance at him and queried doubtfully, "She doesn't?"
"Nope. Ya smell like ya always do."
"She has an unvarying odor?"
"Yeah, ya always smell like breakfast."
River's nose quivered. "She reeks of food?"
"Not just any food, a hearty breakfast. Cinnamon oatmeal. My favorite way to start out the day when I was a kid. Stuck to my stomach, kept me fueled up when I was out workin' the fields." Jayne smiled fondly in reminiscence.
Kaylee bounced higher and higher on her cushion as Inara and Zoe casually linked her arms with her once more, preventing her from flying off the catwalk. The merc had not only memorized the pilot's scent but also tied it to thoughts of home? He was so totally gone, and the mechanic was beyond giddy over it. Plus, they was gonna have an awesome capture of the moment to show 'em later when the grouch would only throw a minor fit over the invasion of his privacy before grudgingly cherishing it forever.
Wide-eyed, River turned her head to fully face the mercenary. "She smells like a gastronomically nourishing foundation for the day?"
Jayne nodded. "Yeah." His smile fadin' somewhat, he asked, "Ain't that what you're supposed to smell like? Figured it was some fancy soap or such."
River's hand skimmed up the outside of his arm before landing atop his shoulder. Calmly clasping said shoulder, she only noted for the purpose of scientific comparison the difference between the memory of her brother's normal, uninteresting shoulder and Jayne's broader, stronger, much more well-developed, quite clinically fascinating one. She flexed her fingers, merely searching for a better purchase, and only casually detected the toned smoothness hidden beneath the soft fabric that stretched across the seemingly neverending breadth.
The slow twisting of the mercenary's eyebrows reminded the pilot he was still waiting for a response. Smiling brightly to hide her own momentary distraction, she agreed, "The scent is derived from her soap. It was a birthday present from Inara."
Face clearing as his smile instinctively answered River's, Jayne then smiled up at the Companion. "Well, it was a good present."
The women had managed to tone down their expressions again before the dance partners' gazes returned to them. Their open countenances slid momentarily into benign interest as they smiled gently at the absentmindedly dancing couple.
"It is a good present, but she is nearly out. She will likely have to find another brand soon."
That didn't sit right. He didn't wanna go and learn up a new smell for the crazy girl. This one suit her just fine, and the next one would probably be some over-the-counter, backwoods kind that'd make her smell like other people. That really didn't sit right. "Can't 'Nara order ya anymore? For pick up at the next postal station?"
"She did not wish to presume on Inara's time for such a mundane task, as one soap generally cleanses as well as another."
"'Nara don't mind." Jayne peered fretfully at the Companion. He knew she wouldn't want the moonbrain to go around smellin' common otherwise she wouldn'ta bought her the soap in the first place. 'Nara would fix it.
Smiling serenely, Inara assured them, "No, of course, I don't mind. I would be more than happy to help River with her purchase. Perhaps this time we'll add some lotion and lip balm to the order. This ship can really dry out your skin."
Noddin' along with the Companion's words, Jayne leaned forward to inspect the girl's lips. "Probably could use some of that lip stuff. You're always bitin' your lip and all. And your feet could probably use oilin' since ya rarely wear your ruttin' shoes."
"She does not like--"
"Yeah, yeah. I know ya can't think as well with your shoes on. You could still use all that girly pamperin' stuff every once in a while though, so's you can keep better care of yourself. But," Jayne's chin jutted out determinedly. "After that cut ya got shoppin' last time, I ain't lettin' ya go on planet no more without your gorram boots on."
River gasped at his audacity. First, he had coerced from her a promise to no longer stand on the rails. Now, he was ordering her around concerning her footwear? What was next, her undergarments! "He cannot prevent her from leaving the ship without her shoes. He is not in charge of her attire. She is an adult and will dress as she sees fit."
"I toldja I ain't lettin' yet ya endanger yourself no more," growled Jayne, doggedly refusin' to continue lettin' the supposedly grown woman indiscriminately place herself at risk. Apparently, Mal and Simon weren't gonna do nothin' about it, but the merc wasn't as easily swayed by the moonbrain's wiles so that obviously left the manliness on this boat up to him.
While the pair's eyes steadfastly fixated upon each other, Inara extracted a small box from her pocket. She opened it and offered the chocolates to the mechanic and the first mate. They each took one, and the three women savored the candy as they continued watching the hired killers' mating dance. They smiled knowingly at the unaware but automatic realignment of the couple's bodies.
Even as the duo argued, their bodies had drifted closer and now touched from breast to knee. In reaction, his hand had slid farther around her waist, splaying open in support at the hollow of her back. Her hand on his shoulder had in turn skated across the breadth until impeded by his neck, whereupon her thumb had landed on the edge of his t-shirt collar and her fingers had wound around the impasse to unconsciously stroke the soft hairs at the base of his head. Their legs brushed smoothly as they floated through the steps.
Kaylee sighed soundlessly. She needed to borrow 'Nara's music box and drag Simon down to the bay for some of this fun one-on-one time for themselves.
River was not in the least bit amused at this moment. Indignantly, she declared, "He cannot prevent her from going on jobs."
Awash with confusion, Jayne blinked innocently down at her. "Why would I do that? Ya wear your boots on jobs."
"He said he would not allow her to imperil herself anymore."
"We're all in danger on jobs. Hell, we're all in danger just being on this boat. Wouldn't be any fun otherwise." The mercenary wiped the involuntarily grin from his face. This was serious stuff. She had to stop needlessly leavin' herself open to harm. The mere thought of what could happen made his stomach clench. Without hesitation, he reaffirmed, "But I ain't lettin' ya walk around all those dirty backwater towns without somethin' coverin' your gorram feet."
River sucked in her breath. "She is not a child."
"Prove it." At the telling crinkle of her forehead, he explained, "Wear your shoes like any sane adult would."
Blinking back new tears, River bit her lip and ducked her head beneath his chin. "She is unlikely to ever be fully sane."
Jayne wanted to yell at himself for sayin' the wrong thing i again /i and upsettin' the girl, but now was not the time for such self-beratin'. He had to make her see reason before something stupid critically injured her. And, right now, he had her undivided attention. However, he couldn't help but try and soothe her a little. "Who is?"
The unexpected press of her face into his chest was the only answer.
He sighed and tried again. While tenderly rubbin' her back in unconscious time to the music, he counted, "Mal obviously ain't. The Doc neither. Not to mention Badger and Patience and Saffron and--"
River giggled slightly but did not lift her face from his shirt. "She understands and comprehends."
"Good." Now that they had sealed the deal and closed the argument, he could focus on cheerin' her up. All he needed to do was--
"But she will not comply."
Surprised by the interruption of his thought process, Jayne hoped he'd heard wrong cuz otherwise the argument was totally back on. "What--"
Tilting her head back to look up at the astonished man, River announced, "Factoring in the possibility of injury or infection from the often less than hygienic places they visit, she will try to remember to wear her boots in town. However, she will remain barefooted onboard and when they land farther away from human habitation so that she may feel the ground beneath her feet and the grass between her toes."
Jayne's mouth opened and closed but no words escaped. He clamped his lips together and tried not to scowl. Inhalin' deeply, he forced himself to see this as a step in the right direction and not simply the moonbrain's latest attempt to test his patience cuz she already knew he didn't have none so there was no reason to test it anymore.
River stared unblinkingly at the man, gauging his acquiescence. The darkness of his scowl confirmed his reluctant agreement to her alternate ultimatum.
"But I'm gonna make sure ya got your boots on before ya go into town, and I get to check your feet after ya stroll through the wilds."
Rolling her eyes, River agreed, "Fine."
The often contentious and always lethal couple had effortlessly danced around the entire cargo bay, completely in sync as they casually avoided all obstacles. It really was such a shame to end the lovely performance.
Jayne felt a heavy hand descend onto his shoulder and pull him to a halt. Startled, he spun around, pushin' River behind him as he turned.
Amused by the completely unconscious, protective action, Zoe lifted an eyebrow.
"What?" asked the merc a trifle guiltily. Not that he had anything to be guilty about. It was just a natural reaction to bein' startled is all. Had nothin' to do with the disruption of the odd enjoyment he'd felt when dancin' with the crazy girl.
"Mal's calling us to dinner."
Jayne blinked owlishly at the women surrounding him. When had they left the catwalk? "Oh. I didn't hear him."
Kaylee smiled at his befuddled expression. "We know. That's why Zoe stopped you."
Noddin' vaguely, Jayne quickly stepped away from the girl and tried to move to the mess before Mal got even more mad at him. However, River seized the back of his shirt before he could walk away. Feelin' the girl's li'l fingers clutchin' his t-shirt, the merc looked over his shoulder in confusion at her.
Pointing with her free hand, River explained, "The frog prince needs his boots."
Jayne rolled his eyes at the moonbrain's latest fairy tale. "I ain't no prince in disguise." He tried to head over to his footwear but had to shimmy to get the girl to release his shirt first.
Relinquishing her grip, River tilted her head to the side and watched the big man stride over to his boots. She queried, "Does the frog know he's a prince until he is kissed?"
"Ain't no amount of kissin' gonna turn me into a prince, even if I did kiss on the mouth," reminded Jayne as he perched on the edge of the crate and began carefully pullin' on his socks.
"Have to find the right princess," agreed River sagely.
"Yeah, well, she's been hidin' for a while. 'Spect she found someone else by now."
"Perhaps she is still locked in her tower awaiting rescue."
Jayne paused briefly as he reached for a boot, and contemplated River for some reason he didn't understand. He blinked and drug his gaze from hers. Shruggin' the weird tension from his shoulders, he returned to the boot and remarked off-handedly, "I leave the big damn hero stuff to Mal and the Doc. They live for that stuff. So no need for me to save no damsels-in-distress."
River nodded solemnly. "They do enjoy the saving." Then she grinned. "But damsels are boring anyway. Jayne would need a warrior princess to fight at his side rather than someone constantly awaiting rescue."
Glancin' up as he grabbed the other boot, he saw her grin. "Yup, and those are really rare."
The couple smiled at each other, for a second, completely alone in the crowded cargo bay.
Inara gently covered the excited fingers Kaylee had quickly thrust behind her back.
"Why didn't we get no chocolate?" asked Jayne as he fastened his boots. Wide-eyed, he looked up at the Companion. "River likes chocolate."
He had noticed the candy but hadn't immediately demanded some for himself? And, even now, insinuated that the pilot be fed first? Oh, this day was too life-altering for words.
Somehow, Inara managed to control her facial expression into merely forming a friendly smile when a much more animated grin wanted to break out. "I have more. I would have offered the two of you some, but didn't wish to interrupt your training."
While the merc nodded his understanding, the pilot smiled eagerly. Bouncing on her toes, she queried, "There is more? They could have some for desert? They will require something edible with which to wash down the taste of Simon and Captain Daddy's attempt at food."
They all laughed at that regrettable truth.
"Of course, mei mei, I will get the chocolate for you after dinner."
"She will gladly receive their treat while Jayne hydrates some milk."
"Why can't I get the chocolate while you make the milk?"
"Because Captain Daddy would get testy if he saw Jayne in Inara's shuttle."
Jayne rolled his eyes. "Man needs to figure out what that burr under his saddle is cuz it's ruttin' annoyin' waitin' for him to see what's under his nose."
Kaylee couldn't prevent her snort at this oblivious man's disdain for the other. Happily, Simon no longer lived in oblivion.
Zoe slanted an eyebrow, and Inara let the laughter loose.
River grinned along with him.
Figurin' they were all merely agreein' with him too, the mercenary smirked at the snickerin' women.
The girl skipped over to his side. "Next time, they shall have to set up more obstacles to avoid."
"Why?" questioned Jayne with only mild curiosity and absolutely no heat at the mention of ongoing lessons. He hadn't even batted an eye at the left field remark.
River explained earnestly, "They circled the bay without directly looking at or bumping into any of the too evenly spread boxes. In order to advance his training, they need a more difficult obstacle arrangement to work through next time."
The not-quite-a-couple-yet couple smiled in silent agreement. As he stood up from the crate, her hand drifted precariously close to clasping his, but they both drew back before the unconscious action could be completed.
Kaylee sighed at the near miss.
As they began walkin' out of the bay, Jayne turned warily to the women. "Ya ain't gonna tell Mal about the… ah… are ya?"
Zoe shook her head. "Oh, no. You two were just doing what he wanted."
"No need to fill him in on all those pesky details," added Inara.
"Don't wanna get that Special Hell speech or nothin'."
Kaylee clapped him on the shoulder. "Oh, Jayne, you're such a silly. Ya ain't goin' to no Special Hell over a dance." She grinned. "There's other ways to do that."