TITLE: Bonding


A/N: Shout out to RevDorothyL and her lovely long reviews :) Many thanks to everyone who is taking the time to read this little series, you're all the bomb freakin' diggity. 5th in the Discovery-verse.

Jayne strained under the weight of the barbell. He'd decided to squeeze in a workout before they hit dirt and Book was standing just behind him as a spotter. The preacher looked calmly pleased about their latest destination. Kypher was another planet that specialized in marketplaces and he'd promised to take River and Kaylee out and show them how to choose produce.

Jayne ignored the slight pang in his gut at not having been invited on the expedition, although he knew there was no reason for anyone to think he wanted to tag along. The crew just assumed he'd be hitting the local cat house, and he really couldn't blame them for it. The only problem was that getting sexed was, for once, the very last thing on his mind.

Ever since he'd realized how much of an outsider he really was on the ship he had felt a strange sense of longing. Once he'd started looking for the daily interactions between River and the rest of the crew he couldn't help but see them everywhere.

He'd learned that Inara and Zoe, whilst completely different on the surface, actually enjoyed a quiet friendship. They could be found sipping tea and coffee respectively in the galley, talking in low voices. He'd learned that Wash and Simon both liked watching old gangster movies on the cortex, and that Mal would occasionally join them. He'd learned that Book, Kaylee and River would now spend time together in the kitchen and the fare that reached their table was now much more appetizing than it had ever been.

All these things he had noticed and grown jealous of. And whilst his initial reaction was to sulk and isolate himself he was getting the feeling that it wouldn't help. This was his home and he thought he should start trying to make the best of it.

When they landed Book was joined in the cargo bay by River and Kaylee, both girls looking excited at their expedition. Jayne moved up to his bunk and pulled on a fresh t-shirt, taking a deep breath before heading back downstairs. He was going to have to suck up his pride if he wanted his life on the ship to change.

He moved back down to the cargo bay and stopped still. It seemed that in the brief time he'd gone to change the crew had all left on their own little adventures and it struck him how lonely the boat seemed. He huffed, annoyed at feeling like a child not invited to a birthday party, and trudged out to the town.

He decided that it was definitely time to hit a bar and get solidly drunk. He chose the first grimy looking watering hole he found and stepped inside. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light and smoke he was surprised to see Simon sitting alone at a table. He thought about leaving and finding somewhere else to drink but stopped himself. Simon was River's brother, the ship's doctor, and Jayne was meant to be turning over a new leaf…or some go se. Simon seemed as good a place as any to start.

He moved to the table, waiting for the doctor to notice him. "Ya mind if I sit?" Simon looked at him curiously but shrugged. "Of course not." Jayne set himself down awkwardly in the other chair, the doctor waiting for him to speak.

He tried not to roll his eyes. "So…why're ya here?" Simon smiled. "Kaylee and River are shopping with Book and I was told on no uncertain terms that my presence wasn't welcome. I think it has something to do with my cooking skills."

Jayne scoffed. "Might be right there doc." He looked at the man carefully. Simon didn't seem put out by not being allowed to go along. "Any other reason yer sittin' in a bar like this?" Simon smirked as a waitress headed over to their table. "Actually, today is my birthday so I'm taking myself out for a drink. I think River is planning something for tonight which might also be why I've been abandoned."

Jayne's eyes widened. Why didn't he know it was the doctor's birthday? His mind supplied the answer straight away – because he hadn't thought to ask and nobody thought he would care. He stopped the groan that threatened to escape his throat and thought for a moment.

He turned to the waitress who was patiently waiting to take their order. "Yeah, we'll get a bottle o' whiskey, a good one. An two glasses." She nodded and took the credits he passed over as Simon's eyes widened. "What are you doing?"

Jayne shrugged. "It's yer birthday ain't it? Seems ta me ya ain't meant ta pay fer drinks on yer birthday. Long as ya don't mind a drinkin' buddy." Jayne tried to control his face so the last remark didn't seem too hopeful. Simon shook his head, still looking at Jayne like the mercenary had sprung an extra arm. "Thank you Jayne, that is very kind."

They stayed quiet until the whiskey arrived, Jayne pouring them each a healthy glass and looking at Simon awkwardly. He raised his glass. "Happy Birthday."

Simon smiled and clinked his own against Jayne before taking a healthy slug that Jayne found surprisingly impressive. It must have shown on his face because Simon raised an eyebrow. "I know you think I'm just a Core dandy but I like my whiskey as much as the next man."

Jayne smirked; maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Two hours later and Jayne was feeling sore from laughing so hard. As it turned out Simon was a hell of a fun drunk. They'd talked for a while about the crew and Serenity before the alcohol had kicked in and all hell broke loose. The doctor had a stash of dirty jokes that had Jayne in stitches, tears threatening to roll down his cheeks.

The doctor was slouched in his chair, grinning. "Why don't blondes like using vibrators?" He paused dramatically as Jayne waited. "They chip their teeth!"

Both men fell about laughing, their second bottle of whiskey nearly half gone as they cackled insanely. Simon tried to catch his breath. He tipped his glass forward, watching as the amber liquid sloshed around, and his voice took on a thoughtful note. "You know Jayne, I don' think I mind you so much when there's whiskey."

Jayne nodded. "Seems that way doc, feelin's mutual."

Simon paused for a moment before grinning. "A man saw a 5 credit Companion and the next day found out he had crabs. He went back to her and complained. She told him, 'hey, it was 5 credits, what did you expect? Lobster?'" Jayne was clutching his sides as they collapsed once again into raucous laughter.

Jayne was feeling mighty strange. It could be the fact that he'd drunk about twice as much as Simon. If he was really honest though he thought it could be because he was actually enjoying himself. The doctor was surprisingly relaxed, much more so than he'd been when he'd first arrived on Serenity, and Jayne wondered if he should talk to him about River. Then again that might just be the whiskey talking.

"What the hell are you two doing?"

Both men turned to see Wash and Mal standing by their table with wide eyes. Simon couldn't stop the guilty laughter that bubbled up in his throat, and Jayne soon joined him. Mal rolled his eyes and pulled up another chair, gesturing to the waitress for another two glasses.

Wash sat beside him, still looking curiously at the two men who were slowly recovering from their fit of laughter. Simon looked at Wash. "Why are you two here, don' you have stuff ta do?" The doctor's Core accent had slipped a little over the course of the afternoon, the alcohol slurring his words slightly. Wash shook his head. "Nah, Zoe and Inara went to meet up with Book and the girls; we didn't feel like going food shopping."

Jayne wiped a tear from his eye and looked at the Captain seriously, the effect somewhat ruined by his difficultly bringing Mal into focus. "Mal, d'you know it were the doc's birthday? An' he knows jokes?"

Mal sighed, looking at the half empty bottle on the table. "Seems ta me we're gonna need more booze."

Inara and Zoe stared down at the four men seated around the table. They were all laughing loudly at something Jayne had said, several empty bottles of whiskey giving an indication of how they'd spent the afternoon. As Kaylee, Book and River joined them after stashing the groceries Inara sighed loudly. "What the hell do we do with them now?"

Kaylee giggled. "Tell 'em the ship blew up?" Mal turned wide eyes in the mechanics direction. "What'd ya to ta my ship?" Kaylee rolled her eyes. "Nothin' Cap'n, jus' makin' a joke." Mal grumbled something under his breath that had Wash burst into giggles.

Jayne was happy. He hadn't felt properly happy in a long time. They'd spend the afternoon joking, playing pool and eating the greasy food the bar offered. Wash's impression of a dinosaur had been greatly emphasized with the addition of fried chicken wings, and Jayne felt an odd feeling of acceptance that he never knew he craved.

River moved to where her brother sat, running one hand affectionately through his hair. "Poor ge ge, no lessons learned after the sake exploits?" Simon grinned drunkenly as he became more animated. "Oh, Jayne, I didn' tell you about that!" Jayne leaned forward eagerly only to have the doctor's story cut off by Zoe. "Right, get up, we're takin' you lot back ta the ship 'fore you cause any trouble."

The men all groaned to their feet, suddenly realizing that balancing long enough to walk might be difficult. Inara stepped forward to stop Mal crashing into Jayne, the Captain leaning against her heavily. "Mmmmmm, ya smell purdy."

She rolled her eyes but smiled as she helped him out of the bar. Zoe took her still giggling husband by the hand whilst Kaylee and Book assisted a listing Simon. The doctor turned back to Jayne, almost crushing Kaylee as he overbalanced. "See, I tol' you that extra bottle was…was a bad idea! Now we're gonna be in trouble!" Book helped him turn as he began to babble. "I doubt you'll get in trouble son, not when the Captain is looking just as inebriated."

Simon looked at him for a moment before breaking into a wide grin. "Well thatsh good." The trio left the bar to head back to the ship, leaving Jayne and River alone.

Jayne looked down at the slim girl in front of him. She was wearing another one of those gorram shirts, the dark blue material looking nice against her pale skin. Suddenly he was annoyed.

He slurred as he spoke. "Why ya gotta wear'em shirts fer? Ain't fair." He paused as his alcohol laced mind formed a brilliant solution. "Ya should wear one'a my shirts!" She saw him tilt forward and rushed to sling his thick arm over her thin shoulders to stabilize him. He tried to shake her off but she was surprisingly strong. He snarled, not really noticing the way they were moving out of the bar and down the street. "I don' need no help from lil crazy girls."

Her hair was soft against his arm and he stopped for a moment, looking down at her. "'M tryin' ta fit in better. 'S cuz o' you, cuz yer so shiny." She gave him a little smile as she made him start walking again, her shirt riding up under his arm and revealing a sliver of her taut stomach. He traced a finger over the flesh. "S'all bare n' soft. Shiny." As she helped him onto the ship he felt his eyes start to grow heavy before he remembered something very important he had to tell her. "S'the doc's birthday! We gotta make 'im a cake!"

She nodded and hummed approvingly as she led him towards the couch outside of the infirmary. He sat down heavily, looking up at her through heavy eyelids. He pulled her forward until she was standing between his legs. The smooth skin of her outer thighs felt cool under his fingers.

"'M tryna be better. Yer brother knows lotsa dirty jokes, he's funny. Can we keep 'im?" She laughed, the pretty sound momentarily entrancing him. "I like yer laugh, s'nice, ya should laugh all the time."

He traced one finger over the buttons of her shirt, wondering if he had enough co-ordination to try to unfasten them. She put a hand over his and shook her head. "Slumber calls, drift away." As if on her command his eyes began to close and his head dipped back against the cushions as sleep overtook him.

As he drifted away he mumbled 'perfect' under his breath, passing out before he could see the smile gracing her face.

His dreams were filled with dark haired ballerinas and echoing, beautiful laughter.