Keeping secrets was one thing at which Jayne Cobb was adept. Hell, he'd managed to keep his middle name a well-guarded secret for all his time on that boat, and he planned on keeping it that way. But keeping that kiss with River Tam a secret was on a completely different level. One didn't keep middle names and kisses in the same locked box. There were so many good reasons for Jayne to keep this secret as tight and locked away as any secret threat to interplanetary instability. Both had a chance of getting him shot down like a dog.

But the way that girl was batting her eyes at him across the table was seriously threatening his resolve. How was it when he so much as blinked in her direction, he was in seven kinds of trouble, but she makes eyes at him at the crowded table and no one so much as mentions it?

He glared up from where he had previously been concentrating very hard on the protein in front of him, and the girl grinned. He averted his eyes before the quick-witted doctor could pick up on the connection. Little did he think anyone would notice the disconnection.

"Jayne?" Mal asked, swallowing another bite of unappetizing gruel. "Got somethin' to add, or you gonna keep starin' at your food 'til it sets on fire?"

"Ain't worked yet," Jayne growled back. "And 'til somethin' catches fire I ain't gonna be satisfied."

"The air tastes like fire," River muttered. She thankfully diverted everyone's attention. "Hot and dry, melts the insides. It's oh-so-wonderful, when she tastes fire." She held her palm pressed just below her throat, at her collarbone. "Catch her on fire, watch her burn."

Blue eyes flicked up from their constant vigilance on the plate, and he immediately regretted it. As soon as eyes met, that's when the smile came. She showed her pretty white teeth and smiled, involuntarily making his throat dry. Before anyone at the table could get any kind of idea, Jayne threw down the utensil in his hand and pushed himself back from the table.

"Gorramit, how'm I s'posed t' eat with all that feng le talk goin' on? Ain't you got somethin' for her t' take, Doc?"

"Anything I have is only a temporary solution--"

"Well temp-o-rary her mouth shut for a meal or two, why doncha?" He grumbled, glancing back at River with a veiled expression. Her grin had faltered, and he felt like a right bastard for doing it, but he couldn't have her just proclaiming the thing to the whole 'Verse.

"What is wrong with you?" Simon asked, turning away from his sister to face the merc.

"Don't see why you're so surprised, Simon," Mal said noncommittally. "Jayne's got a way of disappointing most everyone at some time or another."

"Hate t' get regular," Jayne muttered, barely picking at his food and wishing they'd all just talk about something else but him.

And most definitely he didn't look back up to those big brown eyes staring straight at him across the table. He could feel them all prickly on him, but he kept his eyes down. He was the first up and the first out, muttering an excuse to head for the cargo bay. He was pretty sure at least one person at that table hated him right at that moment, and while he loved an altercation as much as the next man, he didn't feel like giving anyone an excuse to shoot him, throw him into space, all that good stuff.

He found a nice little dark corner in the cargo bay, kicking aside some empty black containers from the last job. He sat down, in a silent huff, crossed his arms and just waited. He knew someone would come find him, and he hoped it wasn't Mal or the Doc, mostly because Mal had the power and Simon could get just plain annoying. It was usually Mal, though. He and Kaylee seemed to be the only ones who could wear down his armor, the captain through veiled threats and Kaylee through her constant sweetness.

And now this little moonbrain was chipping away at him. She was fluid, could fit between all the chinks in his armor and burrow in there. Those eyes of hers had a way of sticking with a man, right in the back of his head where he had no chance to reach and clear them out.

Despite that, he was glad when it was little bare feet that approached him there in the bay. He barely lifted his gaze, finding her knees peeking out from under a pretty, flowing blue skirt, and looked back down.

"Hey, ni zi," he offered. She bent at the knees beside him, curling her legs under her to better perch herself. She had no expression on her face, which he felt was refreshing.

"Ye ye," she retorted, sticking her pink tongue out at him. He let a laugh shake through him, and he settled slightly.

"That ain't fair. I'm old but I ain't that old." He decided now was the time to get his word in, before she rambled off into her world again. "Didn't mean what I said at dinner, 'bout you bein' shut up and all--"

She held up her hand. "Common knowledge. You are a terrible liar, Jayne Cobb."

He didn't expect that. "What?" He asked, knitting eyebrows downward.

"Always so blunt," she informed him, cocking her head in an adorable fashion. "When the words get twisty, something must be wrong."

He rested one arm on his knee, inspecting the girl sitting beside him, with a lopsided smirk. He shook his head once, then looked about the cargo area to make sure no one else had followed her in. In a lower voice, he said: "You gonna hover like that or you gonna scoot on over here where I can get at ya?"

Her smile returned, and without further bidding, she tucked herself against his side as easily as if she belonged there. He took another quick look around, then slid his arm about her waist. A nice, silent moment followed with only the groaning of the ship and far-off noises of the others between them.

"Next time y' go and make them googly eyes at me," Jayne muttered at last, "make sure Mal ain't watchin', all right?"

"You like the googly eyes," she said, slightly confused.

"Yeah, but the Cap'n don't, and I'm pretty sure your brother don't either. They got this... this..."

"Vendetta," River supplied succinctly.

"Yeah, one a' them against me. They see you makin' those kinda looks at me and they're gonna think I done somethin' downright ungentlemanly to ya, which I ain't. And Mal's got this itchy trigger finger he's just been dyin' to have an excuse t' use on me."

She seemed to be thinking good and hard on this, letting her brain turn it over and over. "But wisdom is a virtue; makes us stronger."

"But what they don't know can't hurt me," Jayne rebutted. "Hell, you want wisdom, I'm full of it."

"How many chromosomes are in the human genome?"

He paused, stared blinking at the girl beside him for a bewildering moment before he shook his head. "No, that ain't the point. That there's knowledge, completely different from wisdom."

A cute little line formed between her eyebrows. "Explain."

"Well..." He felt a little odd explaining something to the little genius. "You got yourself a brain full 'a knowledge. Smart stuff, like that genome thing." He poked her on the temple to emphasize his point. "You can have all the smarts in the 'Verse, and still not have a pinch a' wisdom. That I got plenty of. Know when t' fight, when t' run, when t' take what y' got and when y' hold out for more. Street smarts, and the like."

"Street smarts," she repeated. She contemplated, then looked resolutely up at him. "Teach me."

"What, right now?"

"Yes." She steeled her face into a mask of determination. "Must differentiate between knowledge and wisdom. Know when to run and when to fight."

"What's in it for me?" Jayne asked, always the shrewd businessman.

She answered by leaping on him, arms around his neck with faces hitched together at the lips, and knocking the both of them to the ground. There ensued only the briefest of struggles, a line of high giggles, then silence.

Some time later, as Inara walked gracefully over the grating catwalks carrying hot water for tea, she happened to look down upon two figures. She paused, having not been seen so far above, to watch and listen. The big merc was sitting on a big square crate, gesticulating with a knife in one hand for some reason. The girl was sitting on the floor in front of him, legs crossed and lost under her blue skirt, her head cocked at a light angle. Her eyes were bright and focused on him, and his big voice was softer than the companion had remembered it being earlier.

"Then this hulkin' hun dan comes up and--"


"Aw, c'mon, it ain't no fun if I can't color it up a bit!"

"What does this have to do with wisdom?"

"I'm gettin' to it, don't get your panties in a bunch!"

Inara lowered her brow and smiled at the same time. She remained quiet as she walked on by, careful not to disturb their moment. She didn't know what was going on between the two of them, why they see-sawed so quickly from one extreme to another, but she'd been harboring a vague inkling over the past few days. She liked inklings; they didn't hurt anybody. Mal usually meant well, but in his perfect world, no one would be able to look at anyone with those warm fuzzies on his boat.

Keeping secrets was something Inara could do very well, if need be, and there was nothing in the 'Verse to stop her when she was determined. It was her job. Hell, she'd managed to keep her heart secret from Mal so long, he probably didn't know it existed.

ni zi - little girl
ye ye - (informal) paternal grandfather
hun dan - bastard; jerk

Why hello there, friends! Its me, and I'm back with s'more Rayne for y'all. You should be glad I like writing these two so gorram much... Anyway, the themes for this series should be evident from the title, and I'm gonna make it even easier by putting the vice/virtue in the title of the chapter. Yay! Hope you guys like what I have so far; the first chapter is always shortest, so fear not those in search of longer, meaty chapters. (that sounds dirty...) Thanks for reading, and stay awesome!