TRADITIONAL GIFT-GIVING OF A COVERT NATURE

By Canton Heroine

Kaylee loved this time of the 'versal calendar. Didn't matter if she was back planet-side with her folks or here on her sky-bound home, she always tried extra hard to make it extra special. 'Twas a date meant for giving and sharing and she weren't gonna pay no nevermind to any of River's talk about it bein' 'redundant'.

She hummed to herself as she mixed together the ingredients of the holiday desert she was making for the occasion. Real actual food ingredients. Seein' as how the Captain was so outward grinch-like about it, she guessed they were his version of a gift. He wouldn't admit to that, of course.

Puttin' the final touches atop her creation, she placed it in the roaster, set the timer, and wandered off toward her bunk to clean up. When she got to the hatch, she noticed a little box sitting against the kick rung. She blinked at it for a bit, not entirely sure that she weren't imagining its presence.

Kaylee glanced along the corridor and back, but there weren't no-one else to be seen. She stared back at the box like it was gonna bite her. It was wrapped in real pretty, shiny red paper and topped with a gold bow. She reached out slowly, but before she laid a finger on it, she noticed the flour dusting her hands and pulled back.

Damn it! Of all the times for her mitts to be grubby!

River wandered around the corner from the cargo bay stairs, padding barefoot along the metal grating. She paused and tipped her head curiously at Kaylee.

"Traditional gift-giving of a covert nature," she said, then nodded. "It's an archaic custom borne from the commercial appropriation of a pagan festival previously stolen for religious purposes."

"What?"

"You have a Secret Santa."

"Oh." Kaylee frowned at the box. "Yeah. Who d'ya think put it there?"

"Revealing an answer would negate the 'secret' part of the equation." River moved closer, eyeing Kaylee's fidgeting and floury hands. "Your situation is problematic."

"You wouldn't…Um, could ya open it for me?"

The girl bent at the waist, her long hair trailing to the floor, and peered intently at the box, tilting her head this way and that like it was the trickiest of puzzles. "Yes, but in the interest of maintaining appearances, I'm not telling you who it's from." She picked the box up and picked off the bow, wrapping it around her wrist for safekeeping.

"Don't rip the paper any!" Kaylee blurted. "I mean, it looks so fancy, you know. Rich. Like somethin' Simon would pick. I bet it was him."

River rolled her eyes, and efficiently popped the gift open without so much as the tiniest tear. Both girls peered inside.

It was a necklace. Not a delicate, core-world necklace like Kaylee'd expected, but a thin leather strap with a carved wooden pendant attached. The carving was of a teddy bear, very similar to the patch on her favourite pair of coveralls except that this one had a heart-shaped outline engraved on his little round belly.

Kaylee was awed. "That ain't store-bought. Somebody made it from scratch."

"For love and not money." River nodded approvingly, extricating the bear and letting it dangle from her fingers. They watched it sway back and forth.

Kaylee gnawed on her lower lip. Somethin' about it and its supposed giver wasn't sittin' right with her. "It is beautiful, only…Simon didn't give me this. He couldn't have."

"What the ruttin' hell're you two doin'?"

Kaylee whirled round to see Jayne coming in from the kitchen. He had a suspicious-looking white smear on his cheek. She scowled at him. "Did you touch my puddin'?"

He gave her a decidedly sly smirk as he reached her side, and nudged her suggestively. "Did ya want me to touch yer puddin'?"

Kaylee smacked him. "Jayne!"

He ignored her and squinted at the necklace. "Nice bear. Some fine work in that. Took up a lotta someone's downtime."

River glanced at him. "He didn't mind. Wanted it to be perfect."

Jayne snorted, and rubbed at the smear on his cheek.

Kaylee narrowed her eyes. "What's that?"

He froze. "What?"

She latched onto his left hand, suddenly unmindful of the powder dusting her own, and pointed accusingly at a good-sized weave that covered both his index and middle fingers. "That!"

"Oh." He pulled it away and gave a self-conscious shrug. "Well, you know…'s nuthin'. Sliced 'em when I was usin' Binky th' other day."

"Usin' her to do what?" Kaylee's eyes grew wide. "To carve something? Jayne, did you…" She snatched the necklace from River and held it up. "Did you make this? For me?"

He refused to look straight at her, and she'd swear that he was actually blushing. "No."

"You did!" Kaylee was flabbergasted. "I don't…Why? Why would you…?"

"For love and not money," River repeated. "Shh! It's a surprise."

"Shut up. Both 'a ya. I had about enough of your stupid ruttin' chui niu." With the blush rising right up his neck to the tips of his ears, Jayne turned away from them completely. He stalked off back towards the kitchen.

"Now would be a good opportunity for pursuit," River advised, absently twirling the gold ribbon around her wrist. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas."

Kaylee blinked. "Yeah," she said slowly. "I might just do that."

xxx

Jayne stopped dead when he got inside the kitchen area, the aroma of Kaylee's special puddin' warmin' away in the roaster makin' all thought of further retreat fly right outta his head. He took a deep appreciative breath and then blew it out on a heavy sigh. Made him all nostalgic, that smell. Reminded him of home and his beloved Ma. The way to Jayne's heart had most always been through his stomach – though Kaylee seemed to have bypassed that route an' snatched the whole thing for herself without so much as a by-your-leave.

He shook his head. It'd been downright idiotic of him leavin' that gift out like that. Weren't no way she wasn't gonna figure out who'd put it there, and especially not with the moonbrain in cahoots. He hadn't meant for her to find out he was sweet on her. Not like that. At least not yet.

"Jayne?"

Gorramit. "What the hell do you want, girl? You ain't humiliated a man enough?"

"I'm sorry. I dint mean ta…" Kaylee walked right up and wrapped her hand 'round his forearm. "It was a surprise, ya know? You never let on."

"Not like you was inclined to notice after Doc came on." He glanced at her. She was lookin' right at him with them big toffee-coloured eyes. He licked his lips nervously. "Did ya like it?"

"I think it's the sweetest bear ever." She placed the necklace in his hand, flour dust 'n all. "Would ya put it on for me?"

Kaylee spun around so that she was standing right in front of him - closer than she'd ever been, even when playin' hoopball - and pulled her hair up outta the way. Jayne stared at the smooth skin of her neck. Seemed wrong to touch it.

He held himself carefully back, unconsciously grinning a little as he tied the leather in a perversely secure knot. No way that was comin' off less'n she cut it.

She suddenly turned around again, facing him, even closer that before, her body pressed against him and pretty face tipped up. She was smiling and sparkle lit her eyes that made him all manner of uneasy. "Thank you," she said.

"Uh… You're welcome, I guess."

She raised up on tip-toe and kissed him square on the mouth. "Merry Christmas, Jayne."

He blinked at her, stunned, then peered up at the ceiling. "What'd ya go do a thing like that for? There ain't no mistletoe in here."

"Don't need none." Then damned if she didn't kiss him again.

Turned out bein' an idiot had worked in his favour after all. He had a girl in his arms and the prospect of a dinner made from real food. For Jayne, it was the best Christmas ever.

END