Any OCs belong to me, I suppose, unless any of the above-mentioned would like use of them. Fair is fair.
Rating: T This a continuation from the Jane Eyre prompt fic, Smile.
Passage/Quote #1: "I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected… He made me love him without looking at me."
River sat on the edge of her bunk, staring down at the small capture screen clutched in her lap, her face reflecting back at her in the shiny dark square. It felt hot, as if the plastic, metals and other components were affected by what was contained within. She couldn't control the tiny smile of wonder that lifted the corners of her lips. Her lips…she touched her fingertips to them, almost in disbelief. They still felt tender, and the brush of her fingers reawakened the sensation of his mouth moving against hers. The capture…the capture had it all. Their first kiss… She lifted the slim frame against her pounding heart, thinking back, attempting to trace the path that had led to that moment, that incredible, heart-stopping moment in the kitchen.
It had all begun so innocuously...
After Wash's death, as River gradually assumed more and more of the pilot's routine duties, she had begun to have regular interaction with the loose social network of pilots and programmers with whom the gregarious Wash had communicated: trading information, hacking tips, nav tricks, and gossip. Even though they were saddened by the loss of one of the most popular members of their circle, they quickly warmed to River, and decided to take her under their collective wings. Over the course of the last year, River had become something more than acquaintances with several individuals, and in one young female pilot, whose handle was Gadget, she had found her first friend.
Gadget was an attractive young woman of twenty-three, with a mischievous smile that flashed frequently across her coppery-brown face. She flew the Herne, a Veeg 80-10 salvage scow, three times the size of a Firefly, with a crew of sixteen. Her father was the ship's mechanic, and she had lived on ship with him since she was six years old. Her captain was a shrewish, frugal little man with the patent misnomer of Captain Mirth, who had been only too happy for his mechanic's daughter to take over when the latest pilot, dissatisfied with the meager pay, had left abruptly for a better gig. One of the first things that Gadget and River had bonded over was the discovery that neither of them was actually certified to fly anything.
River and Gadget waved each other at least once a week, and often more frequently than that. River hadn't realized how enjoyable it would be to have a friend like this, someone who had no previous knowledge of her and accepted her at face value. As far as Gadget knew, River had followed her brother to his post as ship's medic on Serenity, discovered an aptitude for flying, and, out of necessity, was given the opportunity to pilot after Wash's tragic death. As they got to know each other better, Gadget would send captures of her ship and crew; her pranks and other funny happenings; candid captures such as the one of Captain Mirth having a meltdown over the missing sugar cubes from the mess. And the ornate little castle that Gadget had built with the sugar cubes, sporting little paper flags that read "Gadget" and "Rivet," her nickname for River. River enjoyed these glimpses of life on the Herne, and tried to reciprocate with equally amusing stories, but she wished that she could return the favor and show Gadget what life was really like on Serenity.
When Simon and Kaylee had asked her what she wanted for her nineteenth birthday, the first and only thought she'd had was a capture of her very own, although she wasn't certain whether or not they would be able to obtain one this far out. Inara had finally acquired one through a sister Companion, and River was touched when the captain made an impromptu detour in order to retrieve it in time for her birthday. River would never forget the moment they presented it to her, wrapped and adorned in a floppy red bow, shining faces hoping that she would be surprised.
Kaylee's capture had been broken beyond repair during the crash on Mr. Universe's moon, and River had never really had the opportunity to use one before. As she practiced, drifting around the ship during her free time, she found it strangely reassuring to record the mundane moments of their lives. It was additional documentation that all she saw and heard was real, that it had actually happened.
She was better after Miranda, but not whole, and she still suffered from frequent nightmares. Even during the day she sometimes experienced brief, jarring flashes of horror as even more memories, of the Academy, of what had been done to her…and by her, surfaced in her consciousness. Alone in her bunk she would replay her captures of the crew: working, bickering, laughing… Reliving the daily interactions of her motley, newfound family was very calming for River. Each night she would choose a different capture, and doze off to images of Kaylee chattering away while tinkering with the engine; Simon's dry lecture on the importance of properly categorizing pharmaceuticals; Inara meditating, long lashes fanning her cheeks, tendrils of smoking incense curling through the air beside her glossy head; the captain cleaning his gun, educating her (unnecessarily) on each step; or Zoë's rusty laugh as she and the captain exchanged an old war story.
She was a little surprised that her favorite was one of Jayne: propped against the wall at the top of the open ramp, guarding the ship, waiting for Mal and Zoë to come back from a deal proposal that had sounded suspiciously too good to be true, especially when there'd been rumors of rampant shipjacking in the area. He'd held Vera loosely in his hands, her barrel burnished red and gold in the horizontal rays of the setting sun, his face shadowed by his hat brim. It had been very quiet at their remote landing site, with only the sounds of the evening insects humming in the air to break the silence. There had been a timeless beauty, and an aching tinge of loneliness, to the scene. And then, bored, Jayne had started to whistle, a low, oscillating sound that was pleasant and somehow reassuring. On the nights when River fell asleep to that capture her dreams were guaranteed to be tranquil and her sleep undisturbed, because she knew Jayne was there, watching.
River remembered the nervous debut of her little vid for Gadget. Gadget had taken great pleasure in being able to view the ship and much-discussed crew for the first time, and River had basked in her friend's complimentary comments on all that she saw. They had been watching the vid together on a split screen, snickering over a scene of Simon and Kaylee throwing horseshoes in the cargo bay and not being able to keep their hands off one another, when suddenly Gadget had given a theatrical gasp and said, "Who in the hell is that guy?"
"That's Simon," River answered, puzzled, thinking she had made that clear.
"Uh, no, behind Simon…you know, the great, big, gorgeous hunk of man?"
"What?" River said, suddenly uncertain.
"The duck that's all kinds of tasty…doing the chin-ups?" An exasperated note entered Gadget's voice.
"You mean Jayne?"
"That's Jayne?" Gadget stared at her from the wave screen. "You told me he was old!"
"Well, he is…older." River's eyes honed in on Jayne in the background, her face heating up slightly as she realized that while recording she must have inadvertently shifted over and centered him in the frame, leaving Kaylee and Simon off to one side. He was hanging from the handles he'd attached to the underside of the catwalk, legs bent at the knees, ankles crossed, huffing slightly as he executed a series of muscle-bulging body lifts.
"Older, yeah, but not old. You gave me the impression that he was a crotchety, mean old cuss!" Gadget complained dramatically, her eyes averted as she studied the image of Jayne exercising.
"Not wholly inaccurate. He can be very crotchety, and extremely mean," River replied defensively, feeling strange. Trying to remember exactly what she had said about Jayne. Was it possible she had never mentioned his clipped goatee, sable-brown hair, deep blue eyes and overall…largeness?
"You been holdin' out on me, gong zhu!" Gadget laughed, still gazing avidly at the capture of Jayne. "I shoulda known you wouldn't have any ancient geezer as your hired gun, with all the cargo you haul. Huh! If I were you, I'd be all over him! He ever show any interest?" she finished in a speculative tone.
River gave a sniff of amusement, thinking: Only in how much he money he could be paid for me. But Gadget didn't know about their checkered history. "I irritate him."
Gadget gave a whoop of appreciation as she watched Jayne finish his reps, drop lightly to his feet and come forward, providing an up-close image. He was gleaming with sweat and breathing a bit harder than normal as he passed the capture, purposefully ignoring it, an ill-tempered scowl twisting his features.
"See?" River's voice had an almost wistful undercurrent, and Gadget looked at her curiously, a little smile twitching her lips.
"But the question is: why do you irritate him? Go back and look at that vid again. He knows you're capturin' him…I think he's even showin' off for you!" Gadget grinned.
"Showing off, quite possibly. For me? Unlikely." River refuted that swiftly. "He merely finds me annoying. And there is a large discrepancy in our ages."
"Oh, you're right. I didn't think of that. An older man and a younger woman gettin' together…that could never happen," Gadget mused, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
"Even if I were interested, which I emphatically am not, it's more complicated than that," River said edgily, wondering how they had strayed into this ridiculous conversation. "He's…inconsiderate, and crude, and...untrustworthy."
"So he's a man, then?"
"Simon is a man, and he displays the opposite of all those traits," River pointed out.
"No, Simon is a saint…and a saint would bore me stiff. Kaylee's a lucky girl, but I want a guy that's a little meatier, if you get me. I like a bit of rough." Gadget winked, her golden hazel eyes gleaming.
"Then Jayne's your ideal…the perfect model," River murmured. She felt a little twinge at the thought of pretty Gadget and Jayne as a couple. It would be very inappropriate, very…wrong. She wouldn't want to subject her friend to that. River was suddenly glad that Gadget was light years away.
The capture scene had changed to a virtual tour of the passenger quarters and Gadget's interest flagged. "So you got any more vid of my model?" She prompted gaily. "I could watch me some hired gun all day. He exercises, he perspires, he sneers…what else does the shiny gun-bot do?" she teased.
River couldn't help but giggle in return. "He eats."
"I'll bet. Gotta fuel that engine! I think I'll need to see some sample vid of everything in hired gun-bot's preset program before I order one, though. I'm disappointed in you, Rivet…an experienced sales rep would have all that on file already: eating, sleeping, working, fighting…" Gadget lifted a wicked eyebrow at River. "Kissing."
River laughed again, an odd little thrill running through her. "That's one thing you'll never see from Jayne. He doesn't believe in it."
"Oh…" A thought occurred to Gadget. "He ain't sly, is he?"
"No! I mean… all evidence indicates the contrary. The explanatory anecdote states that a prostitute incapacitated him by applying a narcotic to her lips before initiating osculatory overtures."
"Oscula- what?" Gadget frowned, but she had long gotten over any embarrassment at asking River to explain what she meant. "Dumb that down a bit, hon."
"He was robbed after a criminal ploy known as the 'goodnight kiss.'"
"Gotcha! Yep, that still happens," Gadget allowed, nodding thoughtfully. "As a matter of fact, last month Johnny – the claw operator, not the cook – was in this saloon on –" She looked away suddenly, startled. "Ruttin' hell, gotta go, cherub. Here comes Cap'n Jolly. Probably wants to know who short-sheeted his bunk…a classic! You get to work on that sales pitch, you hear, and wave me lots more vid of the gun-bot!" She winked at River and signed off.
River sat back, shaking her head with a perplexed smile at Gadget's request. Idly, she returned to the capture of Jayne doing the chin-ups. He appeared fit, and powerful, and very…striking. Gorgeous, Gadget had said. That he had drawn Gadget's attention was not completely beyond the realm of possibility, she supposed.
Jayne was impressive at first glance, River conceded, but if Gadget could experience the real Jayne her little fantasy would surely wither on the vine. River chuckled, suddenly inspired. If Gadget wanted Jayne, she'd get more Jayne than she knew what to do with.
And that was how it had all started. Documenting Jayne's various activities became a joke, a game, and a challenge. As River waved her additional captures, Gadget would consult her imaginary list of requirements and pretend to tick off each entry.
River had generally tended to think of Jayne as coldly selfish of his time, his personal space, and his possessions. As she devoted more and more effort into following what he actually did, she began to realize that impression was not entirely accurate. One could certainly never accuse him of volunteering for extra tasks, but he went about his routine business with casual competence, and, for all his blunt impatience, he was quietly dependable; he was social; he was an integral part of the crew. She collected captures of him working with the others, playing games, laughing, sharing stories… She recorded him sitting at the dining room table, an old-fashioned pen dwarfed in his big hand, replying to one of his mother's letters in his spiky scrawl, and including a healthy sum of cash in the packet. River acknowledged, somewhat reluctantly, that there was more to Jayne than the consumption of comestibles and an aptitude for physical violence.
She waved more vids to her friend, always ending the session with the ones featuring Jayne, and watched and listened in fascinated bemusement as Gadget provided a half-teasing, half-admiring commentary on all things involving the "gun-bot." Almost without realizing it, River began to look forward to her capturing sessions when Jayne was the object of her recording, as she found herself wondering what new aspect of himself he would reveal through the lens of the capture.
Gadget liked the video of Jayne doing the pull-ups, and she loved the one of him playing his guitar, but her very favorite was…
"Puppy!" Gadget pouted, pushing out her lower lip, her eyes large and pleading.
"We've seen that one at least three times," River teased, feigning surprise. "Are you positive you won't be bored? Are you sure you can bear it again?"
"Bear it?" the other girl gave a slight snort. "I want it running on my wave screen in a continual loop. Puppy!"
River suppressed a smile and scanned for the vid. She wouldn't have admitted this to Gadget, but that particular capture was second only to the capture of Jayne whistling in the sunset on her list of personal favorites.
"Puppy, it is," she murmured, not quite sure if she was indulging Gadget or herself.
Mal had agreed to a meeting with Badger, and decided to arrive at Eavesdown a few days early in order to restock and run checks on the ship's subsystems. Kaylee determined it was the perfect opportunity to perform some routine maintenance on the landing gear as well, and enlisted Jayne's help in the task. As she and Jayne began working outside, a very young, half-starved dock mongrel, attracted by the sounds of banging and power tools, had trotted up and made it his mission to alert everyone in the vicinity that these interlopers had dared make themselves at home in his particular territory. Kaylee tried to befriend the small animal, but every time she approached, the pup would dodge away nervously and bark even more aggressively.
After the first ten minutes of ignoring the relentless barking, Jayne started swearing at the puppy, throwing things at it to frighten it away, and yelling at it to shut the hell up. River hadn't captured that, but everyone on the ship heard it. Sensing entertainment would follow, River started the capture when Jayne marched up the ramp, declaring that he was going to silence that mutt if it was the last thing he did. Kaylee came tearing in after him, yelling determinedly, "You shoot that poor little thing over my dead body, Jayne Cobb!"
The small, dirty, black-and-grey speckled pup followed them and was skittering back and forth agitatedly at the edge of the ramp, claws clicking on the metal, yipping incessantly.
Jayne gave the pup a deadly look, gave Kaylee a dismissive one, and loped up the stairs.
Kaylee stared nervously at River, who continued taking the capture.
"You don't think Jayne's actually gonna get a gun, do you?" She turned then to the captain, who'd chosen that moment to appear around the corner from the common area. "I think Jayne's gettin' a gun, Cap."
"That's crazy talk, Kaylee. Jayne…with a gun?" Mal's tone was droll.
"You gotta stop him, Cap, he's gonna shoot that sweet little dog!" Kaylee gestured to the animal on the ramp, who paused only briefly in his yipping to lift his leg against the hydraulic arm. Once finished, he resumed barking with vigor.
Mal stared at the dog for a beat, sucking his teeth, and then back at Kaylee, who looked at him with a beseeching expression.
"Well, ain't ya gonna say somethin' to Jayne?" she demanded, wide-eyed.
"'Course I am," Mal answered decisively, folding his arms and rocking back on his heels, his voice rising to clear the yapping: "Jayne, you are takin' a gorram long time to get back down here and put a bullet to that wretchedly beast!"
"Malcolm!" Kaylee protested, putting her hands on her hips.
"Let it go, Kaylee," Jayne reappeared, and River raised the capture to show him coming down the stairs. "Said I was gonna shut it up, not shoot it." He was talking around a carrot sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and carrying some plastic bowls, some packets of protein, and a bottle of water.
"Oh," Kaylee said, relieved, "You meant you were just gonna feed him. But what's the carrot for?"
"It's my magical dog-quietin' carrot." Jayne rolled his eyes. "What do ya think it's for? Been a long time since breakfast." He got one hand up and crunched off a bite.
"It's enough that I waste my hard-bought rations on you, Jayne, much less that worthless mutt," Mal snorted, but there was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes as he ascended the stairs to the catwalk. He gave River and the capture a surreptitious wink.
River watched as Jayne walked down to the edge of the ramp and dumped food and water into bowls for the dog. The puppy raced back and forth, yelping and whining frantically as he smelled the food, obviously wanting to come over and dig in, but intimidated by Jayne's presence.
"Come on, then," Jayne rumbled, crouched by the bowls. He pushed them a few inches out. The puppy finally darted in, grabbed a mouthful and retreated, eyeing Jayne nervously as he gulped down the protein. Jayne calmly crunched his carrot. After the pup had devoured his stolen portion, he edged back in, and this time, he stuck his face in the bowl and ate rapidly, still glancing up at Jayne with suspicion. When Jayne continued to show no particular interest, the puppy seemed to relax. Just two buddies, chowin' together. The puppy began eating so ravenously that Jayne had to hold the bowl steady. When the pup seemed to tolerate that, Jayne reached out slowly and put a passive hand on the pup's back. The dog started, calmed, and then wagged his spindly little tail and continued to eat. Jayne gave the pup a few gentle pats.
When the pup was done with the food, he drank the cool water in huge whuffs, and then lifted his dripping muzzle. The puppy looked at Jayne. Jayne looked at the puppy. The pup gave one sudden, happy bark, and then dove at Jayne, licking at his hands and wriggling around Jayne's knees. The pup wagged his tail so hard the whole rear end of his body vibrated back and forth. You…friend.
Jayne gave a reluctant laugh, and knuckled the dog behind the ears.
Inara came down from her shuttle in time to see this, joining Kaylee and River at the top of the ramp. The three women watched with amused expressions as the puppy flung himself on his back, inviting Jayne to scratch his belly.
"Wouldja look at that," Kaylee giggled. "Didn't know Jayne could be so good with animals."
"I do believe it's love," the companion remarked, as the puppy flipped back over and jumped repeatedly at Jayne, trying to scramble onto his lap.
River felt her heart squeeze with a sudden, powerful beat. She stared at the big man, who was still smiling faintly at the little animal, thwarting its exuberant advances with careful hands. This was certainly something new from Jayne. The over-excited pup clawed sharply at him, whining for more attention.
"That's enough, now," Jayne said in cool, stern voice, and the puppy settled down immediately, going down on his haunches, tongue lolling in a friendly puppy smile, tail still swishing back and forth. Jayne glanced up at Kaylee. "Ready to get back to work?"
"Sure, charmer," Kaylee grinned, starting forward. "So ya like dogs, huh?"
"Oh, go on. You have pets growin' up?"
"Some…huntin' dogs…didn't you?" Jayne answered briefly.
Still chatting, they went around the ship, the puppy trotting jauntily at Jayne's heels. Inara and River shared a delighted look, captivated by the puppy's personality.
Inara had been correct; it was love. For the next three days the puppy followed Jayne around like a shadow whenever he was off-ship, and watched vigilantly for him at the bottom of the ramp whenever he wasn't. River captured Jayne petting the puppy, throwing a stick for him, and roughhousing with a knotted-up piece of rag. Her very favorite part of the vid was Jayne, dozing off against the ship while waiting for Kaylee to finish rewiring a panel, one knee bent, the other stretched out, and the puppy's head resting on his thigh. The puppy even ran behind the mule when the captain and Jayne went to meet with Badger, until he finally had to give up, panting, and return to Serenity, where he curled up in his usual spot and waited patiently for Jayne to return.
"You comprehend that animal is not boarding this boat when we leave tomorrow," Mal warned Jayne during one of the puppy's frequent feeding times, a little alarmed at the growing attachment between his hired gun and the dog.
"Yup," Jayne agreed easily. "I'll handle it."
The next morning, a few hours before they lifted off, Jayne hauled a tub out and gave the dog a boisterous bath, revealing a surprisingly lustrous coat and pleasing pattern of black and white spots. Between that and the regular meals, it was almost hard to believe it was the same scrawny animal that had yipped at them so furiously that first day.
Jayne had fashioned a fairly attractive collar from a worn leather belt and even a lead from some old chain. River watched as he took the puppy by the lead and went over to a little group of the urchins who patrolled the dock. Some of them sold small items such as fruit and candy to new arrivals; some were beggars, some pickpockets. They might be savvy dock rats, but they were still children, and they were attracted by the well-fed, well-groomed young dog. River saw Jayne gesture at the dog, at the ship; she saw something metallic flash in his hand. The children gathered around eagerly, entertaining and distracting the pup, feeding it something from a small bag Jayne offered. After a minute, Jayne handed the lead and the dog treats to one little boy and walked off toward the station with a wave. The urchins waited until Jayne was out of sight, and then they dashed away as a group, talking and laughing animatedly, the puppy gamboling off with them, barking excitedly.
A few minutes later Jayne reappeared at the ramp, glancing back at where the children had been and giving a satisfied nod. He noticed River in the cargo bay, but sidled up leisurely, offering no explanation.
"You gave that little boy your dog," River said softly as he passed her, a strange turmoil in her heart.
Jayne paused, a wily little grin lifting one side of his mouth.
"Not exactly. Told the kid it was the best dog ever and gave 'im a bit to watch the pup for me whiles I ran to get some smokes just before we lifted out. He scrammed pretty fast."
River was surprised.
"You knew he would steal it?"
"I was countin' on it," Jayne laughed, low in his throat. "It raises the value of a thing."
"How do you know that he won't just take the money and abandon the puppy?" she frowned.
Jayne shrugged philosophically.
"Got a feelin'. I had the bit wavin' around in my hand while I talked…most all of 'em were lookin' at me and the cashy money. So I picked the kid who was starin' at the dog."
"That was very…perceptive of you," River said slowly.
Jayne moved over to the con panel and hit the button to bring up the ramp.
"Well, seems to me folks got a tendency to keep their eyes on what they really want," Jayne glanced back at her.
"I suppose that's true…" she murmured in agreement. She experienced a prickle of confusion, sensing that he was focusing on her very intently all of a sudden.
Jayne's gaze shifted down leisurely to the capture held loosely in front of her, one eyebrow arched in speculation. River followed the movement of his eyes. When she looked back at him blankly in return, he shook his head a little, chuckling, and sauntered away.
River blinked. Wait…had he been implying… did he really think that she…? A sudden warmth crept up her throat to her blossom in her cheeks, and she was very glad that he wasn't there to see it.
"What is it about a man and dog?" Gadget sighed, chin in hand, after they'd watched the vid that River had edited together to show the funniest and most endearing moments of Jayne and the puppy.
River cocked her head in consideration. "Anthropologically, I presume that females are attracted to a male's dominance and control over another species as an indicator of his mastery over his environment and his capability of providing adequate sustenance, shelter and protection for her progeny. Or possibly the male's capacity for forming a cooperative relationship with a service animal denotes high socialization skills, signifying that he will function well within tribal group dynamics, thus promoting her social status and benefits, making procreation more successful and thereby ensuring the continuation of the genet–"
Gadget's head drooped and she began emitting faint snoring sounds. River stopped and gave an abashed laugh.
"It is…pleasing," she allowed. Watching the vid of Jayne petting and playing with the dog was gratifying in some odd, intimate way. Seeing how gently, but firmly, he handled the small animal caused an uncomfortable little throb in her veins.
"So what else you got for me?" Gadget grinned. "I still haven't seen any captures of my gun-bot shooting…what kind of saleswoman don't provide proof that her hired gun got shootin' skills?"
"We can't afford to waste ammunition on target practice, and it would be impractical for me to take the capture out on jobs…I'm afraid that you'll have to take my word that he is very skillful in this area."
"Hmm. I'd still like to see him shoot that big gun – Vera, right?" Gadget giggled. "That's so cute, him namin' his guns. I guess I'll just have to hold out for that – and the kissin' vid." She winked at River.
River shook her head in exasperation. This had become a running gag. "An exercise in futility, Gadget. I'm not about to creep after him, capture in hand, the next time he visits a brothel on the remote possibility that it might be the occasion he suddenly decides–"
"Who said anything about a brothel? I bet you ain't even tried," Gadget broke in, her eyes glinting.
River stared at Gadget in disbelief. "You mean that I should kiss him? He'd…he'd never…I…" she stumbled over the words of protest, a wave of embarrassment and something else…something unnerving…tangling up her tongue. "That would be…impossible!"
"Why?" the other girl asked interestedly.
"Because – it just would!" River snapped, utterly flustered, and looked over her shoulder at the entrance to the bridge, suddenly conscious of the fact that the hatch was open and anyone might overhear them.
"You want to," Gadget breathed in delight. "I knew it!"
"No, I do not!" River denied vehemently. "Absolutely, positively not."
"Reminds me of when Ronny – the trawler, not the bosun – ganked my birthday box of chocolates. Up 'til the time I found the box in his bunk and glued it to the little rat's hand while he was sleepin', he swore up and down he never saw 'em. I knew it was him because he denied it a little too much. Like someone else I could mention who absolutely, positively does not want to do a certain thing." Gadget laughed and shrugged, acquiescing for the moment. "Well, you keep on telling yourself that, Rivet."
"It won't be necessary to tell myself anything, because the very idea is preposterous," River replied in a frigid tone, but she had the sinking feeling that now that Gadget had put the idea front and center in her mind, it would be very necessary indeed.
And, oh, it had been. River had found herself thinking about him all the time, pondering what might happen if she went out of her way to talk to him, or touch his arm to hold his attention, or indicate in some other way that she would be open to a physical response from him. She'd thought incessantly about what it would be like to kiss him, to be the woman whose kiss he accepted, even…desired. When she concentrated on him, she did feel something, an extremely strong awareness of her, but of all the crew, he worked the hardest at containing his inner thoughts and emotions. The closet of his mind was kept as dark as possible, and he intended to keep the door firmly closed. She was afraid that she was misinterpreting his constant battle to retain his privacy, to shield his thoughts and feelings from her, as an active interest in her. She was afraid of being rejected and humiliated.
She'd tried mocking herself, scolding herself, and viewing him through the capture lens with a more critical eye, but it was too late. She'd begun this project intending to show Gadget the "real" Jayne, and wound up educating herself in the process. She'd followed Jayne around the ship, device in hand, and with every passing moment she'd become more and more aware of him, and more and more attracted to him. Without even trying, without even really noticing or caring, he'd made her want him. She'd finally had to admit to herself that sending the vids to Gadget was merely an excuse…an excuse to do what she'd subconsciously wanted to do long before she had the capture: spend time in his company, be close to him, and have something of him that belonged solely to her, even if it was only his digitized image, a recording of his voice, or the captured echo of his laughter.
"What's new, Rivet?" Gadget asked jovially as she opened the wave channel from River. They'd fallen into a regular pattern of waving each other at a time they knew they both be on the bridge, just before the twice-weekly systems charts and standards communiqué from the feds.
"Hello, Gadget," River gave a forced smile.
"Hmmm," Gadget said, giving her a closer look. "All is not serene on Serenity?"
"You ain't in any trouble, are ya?"
"Ah…" Gadget began delicately. "This got anything to do with a certain…gun-bot?"
River nodded unhappily.
"Tell Auntie Gadget all," the older girl gave a sympathetic cluck.
"Here…" River hesitated for a moment. "I'll show you."
They'd landed in a little valley on Beylix to offload cargo to another smuggling ship.
It was just entering the first flush of spring there, and the remote, wooded valley was beautiful. The old-growth trees and bushes were awash with greenery and blossoms, a vibrant contrast to the misty grey mountains and deep blue sky. Near the glade that served as their landing site, the long grasses and early flowers banked a picturesque stream, still full from rushing the vernal thaw down from the snow-capped peaks. The loamy scent of growing things filled the ship whenever the bay doors were open, and it affected all of them with a touch of spring fever. After the cargo exchange had gone off without a hitch and the other ship was away, Kaylee begged the captain to let them stay overnight to enjoy the scenic pleasures. To everyone's surprise, he agreed.
Kaylee immediately started on plans for a picnic dinner. Inara wandered off in search of herbs and flowers for decoration and potpourri, soon followed by the captain. Zoë, ever practical, dragged rugs and bedding down to the stream for a thorough wash, and Jayne declared that he was going to sleep outside that night, unearthing a long, tightly-woven net hammock from one of the hidey-holes in his quarters.
Simon and River were dragooned into helping with the picnic, and it wasn't until later in the afternoon, when everything was ready, that River and Kaylee wandered over to survey Jayne's little campsite and let him know the food was ready. He had strung the hammock between two tall, sturdy trees, and had arranged some large stones into a fire pit not far away.
"Why, that looks real comfy, don't it, Riv? Way bigger than mine!" Kaylee exclaimed, walking over and pushing the hammock gently, watching it sway back and forth. "Looks just like a big swing."
"We had one a these outside the house growin' up, and my pop used to swing us all the time," Jayne answered Kaylee. He glanced at River, capture in her hand as usual, and his features twitched with a combination of amusement and annoyance.
"Sounds like fun," Kaylee commented wistfully.
"It was. Hop in," Jayne grinned, "and I'll give ya a whirl."
"Really?" The mechanic's eyes lit up. She spread the netted material cautiously and clambered in. She tried to sit in it vertically, in a classic swing position, and almost tipped out backwards onto her head.
"Now that don't seem safe." Kaylee righted herself, looking at Jayne with skeptical eyes. "Although it does explain a lot. Must be how ya got dropped on your noggin when you was a young 'un." She giggled.
"Ha ha. Ya gotta get all the way in and wrap yourself up…yeah, like that." He nodded as Kaylee settled back and slithered in between the folds, like a butterfly in a cocoon. "Now I'll pull the ends over…hang on inside."
"Okay…" Kaylee sounded nervous, but excited. "You sure I'm not gonna fall out?"
"You ain't fallin' nowhere."
Jayne started out swinging her gently, just a little push back and forth, gradually increasing the velocity.
"This is nice! Can you swing me higher?" Kaylee called.
"High as you want."
"High as you can take me!" Kaylee gave a muffled laugh, and Jayne began to put some real effort into it. "I feel like I'm flyin'! Hoo-ee!"
River, capturing the moment, couldn't help gasping a little as she saw Kaylee begin to rise almost as high as some of the branches that canopied over the glade. Jayne was so strong… He backed farther and farther away as the arc of the hammock widened. River could hear the rhythmic creak of the acrylic ropes, the whoosh of the displaced air, and the high-pitched giggles as Kaylee flew past her. Swinging so high in the hammock looked both exhilarating and a little dangerous.
A bright laugh erupted unexpectedly from River's throat, and the sound made Jayne turn his head in her direction. She sent him a glowing smile of appreciation. He didn't have to do this, and Kaylee was enjoying it so much. Jayne caught her smiling at him, and seemed arrested by the sight. Their eyes met and held, even as he reached out blindly and gave Kaylee another mighty push. Something burned through the air between them. A strange, shivery sensation shot through River, something vital and new… She felt a little shaken as she acknowledged that she'd crossed the line from mere physical desire into infinitely more unsettling territory.
Kaylee gave a sudden shriek and Jayne's head snapped away. The hammock had curved so high that for a moment it appeared as though it would complete a full revolution before gravity trumped momentum and the hammock dipped jerkily and reversed back toward Jayne.
"You all right?" Jayne asked Kaylee sharply, snagging a fold and putting some drag on it, just in case that was a sound of fear.
"Don't stop! More!" Kaylee squealed, still giggling.
Reassured, Jayne pushed her off again before he looked back at River and gave a playfully arrogant wink. "That's what I usually hear from the women in my bed."
River glanced down hastily, her cheeks heating up and her knees feeling like jelly. Jayne was being suggestive and flirty…with her. That really didn't happen. He teased Kaylee like that, and sometimes, to his peril, Inara and Zoë, but never her.
"Your turn next," he invited her with a bold grin. "Ya know ya want to."
River felt as if her respiratory function had been compromised. Oh, yes…
A few seconds later Kaylee signaled that she'd had enough and Jayne halted the hammock by simply catching the bundled mechanic in his arms on the next upswing and arresting the pendulum action. He staggered forward a few steps, lowering the hammock gently. He parted the folds and pulled Kaylee out of the netting. The mechanic emerged, dizzy and laughing, her golden brown hair a wild, static-tousled cloud around her flushed cheeks, hanging on Jayne's arm as she got her bearings.
"Thanks, Jayne! Gosh, River, that was all kinds a shiny! Like a carny ride! Ya gotta try it!" she said enthusiastically, her eyes sparkling with enjoyment.
River looked at Jayne. She thought about his big, competent hands hard against her body as he pushed her, and those same strong hands reaching for her afterwards. The image made her feel almost sick with excitement. You know you want to. She did, very badly. She wanted to experience that physical sensation, that thrilling rush of movement. She wanted to fly and land in his arms. But it was too dangerous in another way…she didn't think she would be able to conceal her reactions, not when he was touching her. Her feelings were so raw, so new…her uncertainty in his sentiments toward her made the thought of such vulnerability unbearable.
"No, thank you." She shook her head, a weak, polite smile on her face, trying to remain calm enough to disguise the emotions churning within her.
Both Kaylee and Jayne seemed surprised by her refusal.
"Oh, take a turn!" Kaylee urged. "I'll even capture ya!" She started forward as if to take the small device from River's hand.
"No, really," River said firmly, taking an involuntary step in reverse.
Jayne's eyes narrowed, and she felt a rising tide of resentment within him. He had interpreted her refusal to swing as a rejection of his simple childhood pastime, an indication that this was an activity unbefitting the status of a Tam. And there was something else…she had offended him in some deeper, more complex way that she didn't quite comprehend.
"Why not? You may be core-born, but we all know ya ain't some fragile flower. That capture does come outta your hand, right?" Jayne challenged her with scathing amusement.
"Of course it does. I just…don't want to right now," River said awkwardly.
"It's time to eat, anyway," said Kaylee quickly, the peacemaker, as always.
"Maybe later," River suggested suddenly, in a placating tone.
"Maybe never," Jayne snapped back with ill temper, and stalked off ahead of them.
Kaylee gave River an unhappy look, and set off down the little path after him.
River followed, subdued and upset, and wishing now that she'd had the courage to take Jayne up on his invitation. She would not make that mistake again.
Gadget was unusually contemplative after she viewed the Beylix vid of Jayne swinging Kaylee in the hammock. River had shown it to her completely unedited, and wondered what her friend would think of the events.
"He wanted you to have a go," Gadget said eventually, looking at River. "You hurt his feelings."
"Yes," River had to agree. Ever since then, he'd been even more bristly than usual toward her, sometimes almost hateful.
"And he was mad 'cause you kept your distance…kept that capture between you and him like some sorta shield. He wanted you to trust him. Kaylee does," Gadget mulled out loud. "I remember you said before that he was untrustworthy. So why don't you trust him?"
River blinked, a little startled at this shrewd assessment. It had seemed almost as if Jayne had been prodding her a little bit, waiting to see whether she would put her safety in his hands.
"I do trust him now…" Ever since Miranda, Jayne's loyalty had never really been in question. Even Simon had come to a tolerant coexistence with Jayne. River had long understood that Jayne's lingering shame for his actions on Ariel was the underlying basis for the thorny nature of their relationship, the reason why he was never quite comfortable with her. She realized that her initial description of Jayne to Gadget had been a knee-jerk one, and that she really had no qualms about trusting him with her safety or her life. Her heart, however, was a different matter.
"Now?" Gadget raised an eyebrow, hitting on the qualifier in River's statement.
"Some things happened when Simon and I first came onboard…" River hesitated, not wanting to reveal too much, not even to Gadget. "Jayne resented our presence, especially mine. He was never reticent about voicing his dislike of me."
"Well, somewhere along the line that definitely changed," Gadget stated firmly. "If Donny – winchman, not inventory control - looked at me the way Jayne looked at you on that vid, I'd be floatin' on cloud nine."
River felt her heart pound a bit faster. So she hadn't been imagining it – Gadget had seen the intensity of that moment between them, also. But even if it had existed, she'd managed to ruin it. His feelings had reverted back to the curt dislike that seemed to be the norm between them. Still…
"Do you really think so?" she looked at Gadget hopefully, a little mortified to openly admit she was interested in Jayne after denying it so vigorously for so long.
"I really do, chipmunk," Gadget reassured her kindly.
"I don't know, Gadget." River shook her head with a gloomy sigh. "The behavior he exhibited at the end of that capture is more illustrative of the true nature of our relationship."
"Wish I could see vid of the two a you together," Gadget said thoughtfully. "That would really be a help workin' this out in my mind. And then maybe you'd be able to see what I see."
"That's unlikely. He's become masterful at avoiding me." River shrugged. "We landed at a way station this morning to recharge the auxiliary cells and the local inhabitants were having a large market festival. We all took advantage of the opportunity to shop. As we walked, I maneuvered my way to Jayne's side and inquired if he was looking for anything in particular, just to make conversation."
"And what did he say?"
"He ignored me completely and disappeared into the crowd," River sighed. "Didn't even bother to sneer or insult me."
"Ooh…he is in a snit."
There was a moment of depressed silence.
"Did you buy anything fun, at least?" Gadget asked, obviously changing the subject.
"Some more of that rose-scented shampoo…a sketch pad…some gum," River listed the items dispiritedly. "It was more of a farmer's market. Kaylee and Simon bought fresh chicken, though, enough for everyone, I think. It's been months since we've had anything but protein, so we should have a good dinner tonight, at least."
"Well, that's something to look forward to. We haven't had fresh rations in years. Good ole Cap'n Bag o'Laughs don't believe in food what ain't been canned," Gadget grimaced. "Johnny the cook is more like Johnny the opener. You're lucky there's them that can cook on your ship."
"Kaylee's a very good cook – and Jayne," River mentioned, a small smile already beginning to form at the reaction she expected from Gadget at hearing this tidbit of information.
"My gun-bot cooks?" Gadget hooted. "Now that's somethin' I'd like to see."
"I'll add it to the list," River promised solemnly. "Shooting…kissing …cooking."
"Not necessarily in that order," the older girl winked.
River laughed a little sadly. "I'll see what I can do."
Gadget's expression was compassionate. "You need some cheerin' up, Rivet, and I got just the thing." A suspicious tilt raised the corner of her mouth.
River looked at her with wary eyes. Gadget's sense of humor had a distinctly puckish quality to it. "What is it?"
"You'll see," Gadget promised airily.
Chapter End Notes:
gong zhu – princess
This where you might want to read Smile, if you haven't already, otherwise Part Two, when posted, might be a little confusing.