Title: Excluded
Characters: Jayne, River, the rest of the crew (notably Wash, Mal, & Kaylee)
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1356
Summary: River shows her affection for the crew while Jayne feels left out.
Notes/Warnings: Timeline is post-OiS, pre-Serenity. This chapter and the first chapter are not connected at all (they're separate fics, as that's how I post my fics) - well, I guess they could be connected if you want them to be, even if this one takes place before the first. xD Anyway, onto the fic!


It wasn't as though he paid special attention to her, or anything. But by the third time she'd made her way through the mess, he was getting a little curious.

So he decided to tail her.

He followed her down to the passenger dorms, to Book's room, careful to keep a safe distance so she wouldn't notice him. It was hard to see what was going on from where he was standing, but it looked to him like River was...was she hugging the preacher?

Huh, was all Jayne could think. ...huh. He didn't think he'd ever seen River touch anyone besides her brother before. She was soon leaving Book's room, turning to give him a wave and a smile on the way out.

Well, now he was intrigued.

Next she was skipping jauntily up the stairs, back towards the mess. She turned toward the crew quarters, swaying as she half-walked, half-danced in the direction of the bridge.

Gorram moonbrain, he thought, rolling his eyes at her display.

He watched from a considerable distance as she entered the bridge, where Wash was occupying the pilot's chair, playing with those dinosaurs of his. Wash paused in his behavior as River approached.

Jayne couldn't see her face from where he was standing, but it was obvious from the way Wash was focused on her that she was speaking. Before he knew it, the pilot was standing, and River was wrapping him in a tight embrace, prompting Jayne to think on what exactly he'd done to deserve it.

The preacher, alright, I could understand that, but that annoyin' little pipsqueak? Jayne scowled, suddenly thinking that Wash was enjoying the hug a little too much, in his opinion.

He barely had time to slip down into his bunk before River was heading back down the hallway. Quick little thing, he thought, waiting a few moments before emerging again. He poked his head out just in time to see her breeze through the mess, walking toward the catwalk.

He stood at the entrance to the cargo bay, hiding partially behind the door frame, silently observing as River drifted down the stairs.

Mal was standing in the corner next to some crates, holding what appeared to be a clipboard in one hand and a pen in the other. Jayne found that strange, as he'd never actually seen Mal doing paperwork before. He wondered what other sorts of things Mal did when he wasn't looking.

River approached, tapping him on the shoulder. Mal seemed surprised at first, but his expression soon softened into a warm smile. Jayne could hear Mal's voice in his head saying, "Hey there, little River."

Just as before, River spoke for a few moments, then wrapped her skinny arms around Mal's neck.

This hug lasted considerably longer than the previous two had. Jayne ran his tongue over his teeth, something he often did when he was annoyed. He bristled a little when he noticed Mal gently rubbing the girl's back.

As soon as they broke apart, Jayne turned away, a disgusted look gracing his features. Kaylee bounded in from the engine room, giving him a curious look as she headed over to the stove.

"What's got yer unders in a twist?"

"I needa excuse to be in a bad mood?" he snapped, crossing his arms in irritation.

"I reckon not," she responded, shrugging. "Ya may as well sit," she continued, gesturing to the table with the spoon in her hand, "supper's nearly ready." Jayne kicked Mal's chair before settling into the seat he usually took.

"Soup's on!" Kaylee shouted, setting a stack of plates and silverware in front of Jayne, who placed them around the table.

The crew filed into the mess, and within a few minutes, most of them were tearing into their dinner. Jayne was eating considerably more slowly than usual, finding his appetite somewhat diminished for a reason he couldn't identify.

River, who was sitting next to him, reached over to pick a piece of bread from his plate. When he made no move to stop her and didn't even give any indication that he'd noticed, she spoke.

"Are the victuals unsatisfactory?" she queried, tilting her head at him. Jayne noted that Kaylee looked worried at the thought, so he rushed to assuage her concerns.

"Naw, just ain't that hungry."

There was a brief moment of silence as everyone at the table paused in their activities, absorbing what Jayne had just said.

"Well, that's one thing I never thought I'd hear ya say," Mal said. Jayne's glare went unnoticed as everyone resumed eating. Deciding that the rest of the crew was suitably distracted, he turned to River.

"What was ya about on the ship today?" he asked her, glad that no one seemed to overhear or even notice that he was addressing her, as that would have no doubt given them pause, as well. She didn't respond, only looked questioningly at him.

"Ya know, runnin' back an' forth."

"She was dispensing gifts," she responded.

"What kinda gifts?"

"Gifts for the crew."

"Ain't I crew?" He asked, not willing to admit to himself that it bothered him to be left out.

"The gifts were affectionate embraces," River said, as if that explained everything.

"Aw, does Jayne-y need a hug?" Wash interrupted before Jayne could respond. Jayne cursed himself for not noticing that the little man had been listening in. He was just about to wipe that smug look off of Wash's face when he was interrupted again by Mal.

"Don't tell me my merc's gettin' soft on me. Next thing ya know, he'll be wantin' frilly pink dresses, too."

The table erupted in laughter. Even Zoƫ cracked a smile, though she seemed to be attempting to hide it. Jayne stood up abruptly and stalked towards his bunk, not even bothering to grab some food on his way out.

--

He watched over the top of his magazine as the girl poked her head into his bunk.

"Get the hell outta here," he sneered at her.

"She meant no offense," River said, as if she hadn't heard him.

Jayne didn't respond, only pulled the magazine farther up to obstruct his view of River's head.

"She did not think the Jayne-man would wish for physical contact with the girl." Her voice was much closer now.

"I don't," Jayne answered without looking up. Not that Jayne had ever been averse to "gettin' physical" with most women-folk.

"Actions speak more loudly," she said. He dropped his magazine into his lap, not quite sure what she meant.

"He followed her," she continued. "Spied."

Jayne's jaw clenched. So she'd known he was there all the time?

"The crew is her family now. Shows of affection are appropriate."

"Whatever, ain't none a' my concern."

"She desired to give the mercenary a hug as well. She reached the conclusion that her offer would be rejected."

She paused, as though expecting him to respond. The silence stretched between them for a few moments before she continued.

"Did she miscalculate?"

Jayne was uncharacteristically at a loss to answer; even though his mind was telling him to shout, "Hell no, you wasn't wrong!" and send her on her way, he couldn't bring himself to say anything. He simply hoped that she would take it upon herself to leave, as he was in no mood to force her.

But rather than leaving, she stepped closer to him. He could feel her long hair tickling his arm. Jayne let out a shaky breath, disturbed by her closeness.

"What the gorram hell d'you want?" he asked fiercely, fed up with her staring at him. She responded by jumping into his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck. On reflex, Jayne's hands came around to cup her bottom, but he quickly removed them when he realized what exactly he'd been doing. Not finding any suitable place to put them, he simply let them rest on his bunk.

"Jayne is family, too," she whispered against his ear. He shuddered at the sensation.

"Yeah, yeah," Jayne responded, immensely proud that he sounded much calmer than he felt. "Just don't go tellin' nobody 'bout this."