"Hey Mal." Jayne entered the kitchen exuding apprehension.
River found the flavor of it rather disconcerting.
Jayne was supposed to be bold and daring. The alpha male.
It always seemed totally off to see him deferring to Mal, even though he did do it regularly.
"Can I borrow the shuttle and the, um…" His eyes darted to River. He winced, "Pilot when we get to Hera?"
Mal looked a little frozen. "Where do you want to go and why?"
This was an unusual request coming from Jayne, River perked up all her senses. She was always interested when her partner did something unexpected.
Jayne's face screwed up like he was saying something he'd rather not. "Sibersk. Its a suburb of Stari Novgorod."
"Never heard of it." Mal glanced at Zoë who shook her head just enough to indicate she had no further knowledge.
"And if I didn't trust you, you never would have." Jayne grimaced at his own belligerent tone. It was two years after Ariel, but the two men still silently argued about that day. "It's my hometown. I wanna go see my Ma."
"Oh." Mal looked around. "Couldn't Inara…"
Inara set her teacup down with a click. "I'm booked solid from the moment we hit atmo until you return from your misbegotten adventure." She stood and swept out of the room.
Mal and Inara were fighting again. She didn't have sex with her clients anymore, but Mal had some major trust issues.
"If I know my Ma, we'll get some quality foodstuffs out of the visit." Jayne said, in way of a bribe.
"Come on." Jayne whined. "It's the meet, not the job. Sibersk is half the world away from Pericropoli. Without the shuttle it will take too long. It's been years since I saw Ma. How would you feel to be on the same rock and not visit?"
"Let me get this straight." Mal said. "You, Jayne Cobb, toughest man on the rim… you grew up on Hera?"
"Well, yeah." He looked around. "So what?"
"Hera is a core world."
"Yeah." Jayne shrugged. "So?" He looked around at his crewmates. "Hell. Why is everyone I ever tell so gorram surprised at where I come from?"
River laughed, she could feel the sound shattering in the air. "Because Hera is so out of character for the persona you have cultivated. I have no objection to ferrying him, Captain." It might even be fun.
"Well, I do." Mal sputtered. "I've got an important meet with an influential client who wants us to pull off complicated crime and my muscle wants to go to Sibersk."
"Take Simon." Jayne suggested. "He'll fit into the crowd better than I would. Just don't let him be the one doing the talking. That only works in hospitals."
"What sort of foodstuffs?" Mal asked, clearly giving in.
"Donno. Preserves, kielbasa, the hottest beet salat you'd ever want to eat the whole bowl of. Hard to say." Jayne shrugged, knowing Mal had given in by just asking.
"Alright. I'll take Simon and Zoë to the meet. How long will you be?"
"A week?" Jayne was hopeful, but his voice indicated he knew it was too long. River would have taken a different tone.
"Two days." Mal offered.
"Three and… renegotiate after the job." Jayne was begging like a puppy, all wide eyed and cute.
River mentally backpedaled a little. Not cute, something else. Something big and not cute, like a bear or an ostrich. Ostriches aren't cute are they?
"Overnight and get us all an invite to dinner after the job." It was Mal's final offer.
"Like that'd even be hard." Jayne shone with more real pleasure than River had ever observed in him. She fought the urge to shield her eyes. It wouldn't help anyway.
"No guns, bring your sword." Jayne said from the hallway. He was leaning against the wall opposite her door.
River looked up from the clothing strewn across her bed. "My sword?"
They were three hours out and she was only now finding time to pack for a night on a core world.
Jayne nodded, leaned slightly towards her then pressed against the wall again.
River eyed him, Read him. He was holding himself back from invading her space. Oddly considerate for Jayne.
She thought about it a little and realized she couldn't remember him ever being so close to her room. Strange.
He looked cleaner than she'd ever seen him. She stared long enough for him to look away uneasily.
That's when she pinpointed the difference. He'd shaved his goatee off.
Jayne wasn't half bad looking in a plain black t-shirt and dressy black pants. He'd even bloused his trouser legs attractively out of his boots.
River was generally honest with herself, but she didn't want to admit she thought he looked handsome.
River caught sight of the long wide knife at his hip where a gun usually would be.
"Yeah, the sword." He said, trying to break the awkwardness she was causing. "There's some tricky firearms laws on Hera. It's better to skirt all the way around them."
River crossed the room to him, a little confused at her reaction to the basic change in his appearance. He was still Jayne she reminded herself. Crude, mean Jayne. Her coarser half.
"May I?" She indicated the weapon, which she'd never seen before. A convenient excuse to come closer to him.
"Yeah." He drew the knife and handed it to her. To him it was a long knife. To her it was practically a short sword.
"Nice balance." She turned away and swung it through the air. She stopped after only a moment, confused again at the surge of lustful thoughts her actions inspired in her friend. Her partner.
"Nice piece of steel." River said, handing the weapon back to him.
Jayne sighted down the blade. "Yeah, my first real deadly weapon." He turned it over in his hands then sheathed it.
"You packing?" He asked, knowing she was.
"Yes." River frowned at the clothes spilled over the table. "What attire would be appropriate?" They were going to his home, after all.
"Skirts." Jayne's mouth turned down a little. "Got anything below the knee? And blouses with sleeves," He touched her arm just above the elbow. "At least to here."
River looked at his finger on her arm, then up at his face. She felt another curling of heat in her belly. Not a feeling Jayne should inspire.
She looked away. "I think I can come up with something."
"Shoes." Jayne said.
River looked back into his face in time to see his teasing grin.
"I often wear shoes these days." She lifted her leg to show him the soft soled slippers she wore around the ship.
The admiration he felt for her calf made her drop her leg again. He always caressed her with his eyes, didn't he? Why was it bothering her more today?
"Yeah." He said quietly. "I know."
River turned away, seeking to analyze the odd spell that was suddenly lacing them together. She snatched a brown dress off the bed.
"Long enough?" She held it up to her chest.
"Not trousers?" She held up a pair.
"Not the right impression." He said uneasily.
River caught wisps of thought identifying pants with loose women.
River agreed. No trousers.
"Well, I'll see you in the shuttle in a couple of hours then." Jayne said.
River watched him leave, a little confused. What was that really about?
He was so complicated sometimes.