Title: Big Like the Black
Rating: All Audiences
Summary: River reflects on Serenity's big mercenary. Pre-Rayne, if you squint a little.
Spoilers: Show and movie

A/N: Inspired by River's line in Ariel when she cuts Jayne: "He looks better in red." And it all ran away from me from there.

Used to be that Jayne felt like a hoard of angry bees, buzzing and stinging my mind whenever I was near.

He'd look at me with a curl of his lip and a wave of distain and they'd come out, loud and angry like I kicked their nest.

He had bees for Simon too. And his bees and my bees would come together and swarm when we were all together until I couldn't hear anything else.

Sometimes they were so loud I needed to make them stop. Took a knife to Jayne's chest, colored him red so the color would be everything. Pain flares red louder than the bees and it would ease.

But they came back. Doubled in number and anger and I wanted to cut him again to make them stop but I didn't dare. I feared how it would make them swell.

I hated the bees but I didn't hate Jayne. Never Jayne.

Jayne's thoughts were the only ones clear. Only ones not muddled and mixed and chaotic with feelings and wants that fought each other and hurt.

When he cleaned his guns, when he lifted weights, when he'd move cargo, the bees would go away. His thoughts were quiet and loud together and it would drown everyone else away and I could breathe. I could be River and Jayne together and that was better than being everyone else.

Happy Jayne. I liked happy Jayne too, when his thoughts would turn warm and content and it was like sinking into a hot bath. When there was a hot meal with real food or when a job went well or when he'd come back from a night off Serenity. All warm thoughts that made me comfy and safe.

Safeā€¦ Jayne was safe. Jayne was protection. From worlds, from thoughts, from myself.

It was strange, when his mind started to change.

First Beaumonde. When I took him down with hands alone. Anyone can fell another with a gun. Guns are easy. Hands are harder.

He took hold of me and it was like a blast of air through the fog in my brain. I tried to fight what my body was demanding, tried to fight the order to hurt, to cripple. Felt his confusion and adrenaline and tried to focus on it, take hold of it but it slipped through my fingers like sand and I hurt him.

But he changed. I felt his respect and I didn't understand. He was impressed and curious and afraid and it was all for me. The bees were smaller, their sting less sharp and their swarm reduced.

They disappeared after Miranda.

He looked at me, with blood on my hands and weapons in my grasp and I felt him change. Felt his awe and admiration, his respect and relief and it felt good against my mind. Like the soothing sound of an ocean and it was peace.

I can sit with him now, with no bees and no sting. I watch him take apart his guns and put them back together with an ease like flowing water and they're a part of him. He's teaching me.

I reach over and touch the tattoo on his arm, trace the pattern on his skin with my fingertips and it's like touching the Black when his mind is so close; so big and open and quiet and beautiful I don't ever want it to stop.

He looks at me and his focus shifts, turns from the simple action-reaction of gears and parts to that pretty curiosity that blooms when he thinks of me.

I meet his blue eyes- like sky, like turquoise- and I can't help but smile as I stretch my hand over the ink in his skin, the warm flesh and hard muscle against my palm.

Small upturn to his mouth and a flash of amusement before his focus shifts back to the gun in his hand, but not before reaching up and brushing his fingertips against the back of my hand where it rests on his body.

Maybe someday he'll allow that hand to wander, to touch and please and warm, but not now.

Now we're still learning our dance and have no time for wanderings.

Maybe someday.