Author's Note: This was my first fanfic. Reviews, comments and constructive crit, pretty please?
"Slow down! Don't move around so much! Yer goin' too fast! Ain't never done it this way before, gorramit. Ya gotta go slower with me." Kaylee's voice wailed up from the direction of the passenger dorms.
Jayne Cobb snapped to attention, ears pricked toward the panic-stricken tone of Serenity's usually unflusterable mechanic.
"Wait! I don't think my hand oughta be there! I don't know where everythin's s'posed to go! I can't do this!"
Slamming the heavy round weight in place on the bar, he strode toward the distressing sound, ready to knock the doctor plumb back to Osiris. Sounded like the uptight priss had finally got around to acting on Kaylee's interest, but didn't sound like it was going too good for her.
Kaylee weren't no snow-white virgin, to be sure. Hell, she'd be the first to tell it. Mal had hired her on as crew the self-same day he'd walked in on her, banging away with Serenity's first mechanic in the engine room. On the gorram engine, no less! She'd seen the downed ship's trouble right off, "when I was down there earlier on my back," she cheerfully recounted, not a speck of remorse or shame in the telling.
Kaylee was as down-home as it got, sun-shine natured and pure enough easy on a man's eyes. Weren't a damn thing wrong with a gal taking sport when she took a notion, no more'n it was for a man. Jayne had hoped maybe she'd sport with him, but since the ruttin' doctor and his 'fugee sister stepped foot onboard, he'd seen any chance of that slipping out the airlock.
He didn't have to like it. Choice was hers, even if he couldn't figure what she saw in the pasty-faced hun dan.
But the edge in her usually cheery voice shot a bolt of fear through the big man. If Kaylee wanted Simon, so be it. But that didn't give the snooty Core-boy the right to do anything with the gal she didn't wanna, and right now, it sounded like she didn't wanna be doing what was being done.
Rage surging through his massive frame, Jayne stormed across the lounge, past the med-bay and into the hallway of the passenger dorms. Not bothering to announce himself, he shoved one large foot through Simon's open doorway, hands fisted into giant mallets and a roar ready in his throat.
"Body flows freely. Divine symmetry. Inhale. Exhale. Human form purified through motion."
The sing-song tones from the dorm at his back trickled through his fury, but finding the doctor's unoccupied quarters were like a bucket of ice water in his face.
"Huh?" the gunhand froze, stunned at the empty room, and by River's lilting chant coming from her own dorm across the hall.
"Left and right, sway and sweep, swirl and twirl and bow. Easy-peasy, just repeatsy."
"Aiya, River! I can't keep all this straight. How am I gonna be able to 'member all this?" Kaylee wailed. "I'm gonna make a gorram fool of myself! I can't go!"
Jayne silently padded over to the girl's room, listening to the two female voices behind the door. Cap'n had gone into town to fetch that fancy, pink, layer-cake dress Kaylee'd gone buggy over that morning. Had a plan, compliments of Badger, to meet up with some fancy Lord at the shindig Inara'd gone to, with a cover of escorting Kaylee in her purty dress.
Lord Fancy Britches needed a boat, with a crew that didn't ask too many questions and didn't mind going outta their way to avoid any Alliance interest. Serenity had just the crew for the job, except Mal had to get into the big get-together and convince Lord Fancy Britches of that notion.
Kaylee was getting her dress, getting to go dancing with all them high-falutin' folks, and hopefully Jayne and the crew was getting a good-paying job. Only problem with Mal's plan was that it was Mal's plan. Cap'n might conjure the scheme solid, but nothing ever went smooth an easy like he wanted. Something always got humped. Which meant Jayne got to shoot somebody, or at least whup up on them some.
"He knows the song of bodies moving. Makes her an angel. Spin her round like a feather on the breeze, make her heart pound, never stop. Bodies meeting, souls greeting, eternal union, hearts a-beating."
Jayne froze. The whispered voice had grown closer, coming from inches away, separated only by thin door. His brain flashed a quick, "Move, gorramit," but his feet didn't get the message in time. The door slid open in an instant.
River stood studying him with that eirie-assed look he'd come to dread. Like she could see past the Jayne he put out there for the 'verse to see, right down into his innards. Like she knew every damn thing about him, every ruttin' thing he'd done wrong in his life. That last oughta give her plenty to wrap her brain around, he thought. But catching a glimpse of Kaylee in the room, his heart dropped like a stone.
Tears rolled down her round cheeks, a look of all-out despair on her pretty face. She sat there on River's bed, arms hugging her drawn up knees, rocking back and forth a little, like somebody what's lost a friend. The sight stabbed him straight through the heart, it did, the final shards of his anger melting like frost in the sun.
"Aw, Kaylee-girl, what's gotcha bothered," he asked, brushing past River to kneel on the floor beside Kaylee, running his big hand gentle over her arm. "Can't go to the doin's leakin' like that, now can ya?"
"Can't go at all," she sobbed, blurting out in a rush. "Can't go can't help Cap'n can't see all the shiny people fancy fixin's can't dance can't go!"
"Who the hell says ya can't do them things?" he demanded, getting his dander up. If Mal had changed his mind, it'd hurt the little mechanic bad. God knew, she didn't get much chance to get all girlified and primped, mucking around the greasy engine room all day, and she'd had her heart set on the evening planned.
"Weren't ya list'nin'?" she looked at him pointedly, like he missed the most important part of the story.
"Heard ever word, darlin'," he answered, a little confused. "But you didn't say why ya can't go-"
"Can't dance!" she fair yelled at him. It was starting to fluster him more than a bit.
"Not if ya don't go, ya can't," he reasoned, throwing River a helpless look.
She sighed hard, threw her hands up, and looked at River like she was plumb put-out with him. He liked the little gal, sure enough, but she was just 'bout to get him riled.
"Jus' tryin' to help," he groused, getting up and trying not to scowl at her. "Ain't no call getting' all pissy with me, an' not even tell me why ya can't go dance!"
"Desire permeates, knowledge eludes. Humiliation calculated to ensue," came the voice he really didn't need to hear on top of Kaylee fussing at him.
"Gorramit, don't you start in on me, too," he growled, letting his frustration show now. He stomped toward the door. God help him, he never had so much trouble understanding females till he got on this boat.
River shot him a patient look, that one he recognized she gave Simon when he was being a boob, blocking the doorway with her slender body. He coulda easy picked her up and moved her, get the hell outta here, but something pleading in her deep brown eyes stopped him. She laid her small hand on his forearm, just a whisper of a touch, but it stopped him.
"Wants to dance. Wants to sway and dip and twirl, shiny dress, sweet music, bodies singing. Doesn't know the words to this song. Laughter-stains on strangers' lips. Disappointment on Captain's brow."
He must be getting moon-brained his own self, but damned if she wasn't starting to make sense to him. He turned to the now-sobbing Kaylee, whose rosy cheeks were beet red.
"Ya wanna go dancin', wear that purty lacy get-up, but ya don't know the dances. Am I right?" he asked softly.
Her face hidden in her hands, she nodded, a little hiccup shaking her.
"Ya don't wanna be laughed at, and ya don't want Mal to be let down," he ciphered out.
She nodded violently into her hands.
"He knows the song, can help her sing the music," River said softly, slowly circling him. "But he must let the melody reign for a time."
A whisper of fear tickled across the back of his neck. Jayne eyed the dark-haired girl sharply. Lil' River just knew things she ought not be able know, and the notion gave him a definite uncomfortableness.
"Then why don't Simon help her learn the dances," he bit out. That useless piece of go se weren't nowhere to be seen, and it rankled him on Kaylee's behalf. "Ya want me to go fetch him, haul his ass back here from where he's hidin' at so he can help?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Jayne," River stated clearly, now as plain and blunt as he'd ever heard her talk. He eyed her with new wariness. She did this every now and then, got suddenly sane-looking. Never lasted, but stranged him out just the same. Crazy-moonbrained-River he knew how to deal with. Real-and-straight-River was an unknown, something that caused an unsettleness in him.
"Simon can't dance," she explained, as if it were the most common knowledge in the 'verse. "Never learned. Too many books and cadavers. No time to be frivolous. Have to talk to a girl, to ask her to dance. Needs a dancer to bring out the music in her."
The uneasy feeling landed square in the pit of his gut. He'd actually almost hoped she was talking about Simon, much as the thought of Kaylee in Doc's arms made him want to puke. Because if it wasn't Simon, that meant River knew. And then everyone else would, too.
"Gor-ram-it," he muttered, looking from the dark knowing eyes to the teary blue ones across the room, and knew he was done for. Couldn't let Kaylee not go, and oddly, the thought of seeing the beaming smile on River's face gave him a warmth in his gut. That in itself was all manner of concerning, but he pushed the uneasiness aside for now. Maybe if he went along, they'd be grateful enough to keep their pretty mouths shut.
"Hell," he sighed, "All damned right. But only cause it's for the job. An' ya can't tell a soul about it. Swear it!"
"Swear what, Jayne?" Kaylee asked, clearly stumped as to what just went on.
"We so swear, Jayne," River whispered solemnly, her thin hand placed reverently over his pounding heart. "Not one soul, save we three. Sacred oath."
With a grimmace, Jayne stripped off his workout gloves, took the few steps to Kaylee's side. A pleased little feeling brushed over him at her shock when Jayne Cobb bowed to her courteously. Taking her hand in his, he drew her to stand, brushing the back of her fingers with a gentle kiss.
"Miss Kaywinnit Lee Frye, would ya honor me wi' the pleasure o' this dance?"
Kaylee looked near to fainting when he'd bowed to her so nice, just like the shuai suitors in the romance vids she and River giggled over in the common room. He saw her mouth working, opening to speak, then going slack in silence.
"This here's the part where ya say, 'Why, yessir, Mr. Cobb, I'd be plumb d'lighted'," Jayne whispered conspiratorially with a lopsided grin.
Kaylee snapped her mouth shut, then instantly broke into a wide, heartfelt smile.
"Aw, Jayne!" she nearly squealed, punching him lightly on the shoulder with her free hand. "Never knowed you could talk so pretty!"
"Shhhhh, darlin', the whole gorram ship's gonna hear ya!" he growled, shooting a warning look between her and River. "I told ya, just us here is to know."
She sobered her face, giving him a curt nod. "Sorry, Jayne, ya jus' took me by surprise," she said all serious, but that devilish twinkle in her eyes told him she was still tickled.
"Well?" he drawled, cocking an eyebrow, unable to resist twisting his words to hint at what he'd rather do. "Ya gonna pleasure me with the honor, or ain't ya?"
Looking every bit the lady who came to town, she tilted back her head. "Mr. Cobb, I'd be delighted to dance with ya."
For one brief moment, Jayne looked down into those adorable blue eyes, and almost let himself pretend he was the handsome suitor, she his ladylove waiting to be twirled around in his big strong arms, till she was all breathless and laughing and full of bliss for him.
Just for a moment, and the moment was gone in a heartbeat. No sense wishin' on what wasn't gonna be, not for as far as he could see anyhow. Not likely to be her nor nobody else looking at Jayne Cobb like that.
"Book and Simon still shopping," River's fluid voice broke into his thoughts. She had her dark silky head slightly cocked, like she was listening to something far off. "Zoe and Wash dancing in their bunk, different tune. Will be occupied for long hours, in harmony, melody, rhythm…."
She straightened, and again was present with them. "Lounge would give more space, better classroom for this lesson than cramped dimensions here."
"Then best let's get on with it," he said, offering Kaylee his arm.
Kaylee swirled around, holding on tight to Jayne's stout arm and shoulder. The look of pure unbound pleasure in her flushed face was worth a hundred credits to him right then.
"Why don't ya want nobody knowin' yer such a good dancer, Jayne?" she breathed as they stepped through the final moves of the dance as River instructed.
"Don't want nobody testin' me, dong ma?" he replied easily. "Get to thinkin' ol' Cobb's gone soft, all cultured an' citified. Might be harder to get respect from my intimidatin' manner, see? Hafta start shootin' folks right off, when maybe coulda not had to. Saves on ammo, too. Getting' expensive since the War."
He'd never admit it out loud, but he'd had fun teaching Kaylee to dance, helping her learn the moves as River instructed and critiqued. He'd been known to cut loose, stomp a mean jig or wind a reel when the notion and the liquor struck him, when they went out celebrating on some backwater Rim moon. Nothing fancy, though.
"Well, ya oughta dance like this more often," she beamed up at him. "Ya dance real nice, Jayne."
He hadn't danced like this, the precise ebb and flow of the steps, since his Ma had insisted he learn as a boy. Said ya never knew when it'd come in handy, and didn't want her boy to miss out on a pretty gal just cause he didn't know how to waltz.
Hadn't been much call for waltzing since he'd first picked up the gun and hired on with an outbound freighter more than two decades ago. Usually, he used these muscles for stealth, calling on his agility in a death dance with his enemies.
"Ya ain't doin' so bad yer own self, lil' Kaylee," he praised her, and meant it. She'd caught on fair quick, once her nerves had settled. "Them fancy Core-fellas better be careful, ya might break their hearts a-dancin' so purty."
"Return!" River shot out, spinning to peer out into the cargo bay. "Holy Man and Simon have completed their tasks: animal, vegetable, mineral sustenance. Captain is victorious: has captured the pink frills."
Jayne heard the rapping at the hatch, and gave Kaylee a wry smile. "Well, darlin', hope I helped ya, though River did mosta the real teachin'. Gal knows her stuff when it comes to fancy moves, so ya should be good to go. Better let Mal in, get ya get all gussied up proper."
"Thank ya, Jayne," she threw her arms around him suddenly, giving him a big wet smooch right on his stubble–covered cheek. "Don't know what I woulda done without ya!"
She shot him a parting smile over her shoulder, holding her finger to her mouth. "Yer secret's safe with me, too." Then she was gone, vanished like a vapor out to the cargo bay, her squeals of delight dancing back to him in the lounge.
He pressed his callused fingertips to the still-damp spot on his cheek as she disappeared. "Any time, lil' darlin'," he whispered low.
He stood there, absorbing the absence as she absorbed the heart's loss. River watched him, emotion cleared from her features. She was as a stone, still and not moving, calm. But she was not a stone.
Never sees what's in plain sight. Can't see past what the heart wants. Can't see the heart that wants back.
Jayne jogged out to the bay with the others, a whimsical smile still playing on his mouth.
Forests and trees. Obvious and unobtrusive. Seeing and invisible.
She toyed with paradox, her slow, deliberate steps echoing the earlier back-and-forth of unpartnered partners. Quantified the discovery of thoughts sprung loose by corporeal motion.
He loved to dance. Kept secret the joy in his sinews and tendons and muscles singing, the matching of movement and form and symmetry, advance and retreat to partner's heartbeat. It was what he drew him, like an gravitational field, to a good tussle, whether bar brawl or lover's endeavors.
"Come dance with me, darlin'?" she pirouetted toward him, arms reaching gracefully to the spot his body had occupied mere moments before. Dipping a low curtsey to his absence, she replied softly, "Why yes, I'd be delighted, dearest."
River swayed, eyes closed, her head resting tenderly upon his echo. She'd always loved to dance.