Part 6

The only reason that Mal noticed the slight hesitation as Jayne stepped into the greasy spoon was that he was watching him. Nobody else would have even been able to pick up on the way Jayne's eyes went straight to River before scanning the room in his usual "Note all exits in case the shit hits the fan" manner. The captain's eyes narrowed in suspicion for a moment before a little of Inara's subtlety training kicked in and he decided to watch and wait and see what was going on.

Jayne sauntered over to the table with a loose limbed grace that had one waitress nudging the other with a naughty grin. He grabbed the chair and flipped it around before straddling it and yelling for a cup of mud.

Zoe and River exchanged a laughing look as the waitress they'd spent five minutes trying to gain the attention of when they walked in had a hot cup of coffee in front of Jayne in less than a minute and was asking if there was anything else she could offer him. The busty waitress put a special emphasis on the word anything, and River noticed that she'd managed to find the time to unbutton the top three buttons of her shirt.

It only took a moment for Zoe, Mal, and Jayne to drop into the easy banter that had run throughout their long association and they managed to ignore the fact that the waitress hadn't left. It happened occasionally in their travels that a persistent woman managed to catch Jayne's eye and drag him off for a little tumble.

None of them managed to catch the look that River shot at the waitress or the way she propped her foot possessively on the rung of Jayne's chair. When the waitress didn't appear to take the clue, River gained the attention of everyone else at the table when she started growling quietly.

Jayne's eyes bounced from River to the waitress and he nonchalantly waved her off and put his hand on Rivers shoulder, squeezing it for a moment before grabbing his cup for a hot mouthful. He choked a little bit and looked into the cup. "Damn, I think they've been cookin' this stuff since last time we were here." He was concentrating so hard on willing his taste buds back to life that he missed the slightly confused look that Zoe and Mal shared and the searching gaze River was bestowing upon him.

After checking to make sure that everything was where it was supposed to be, Kaylee let Simon distract her into a quick "checkup" in the medical bay. Even as distracted as she still was by their relatively new romance, she kept one ear on the ship for any odd noises.

Once they were finished with their bout of frenzied lovemaking, Kaylee lounged on the counter while Simon tidied himself up. His collar barely covered the love bites she'd left on his neck and shoulder and she stifled a grin when she saw his shirt going up over the red streaks on his back from her barely there nails.

"Why do you think River's so concerned with Jayne?" Simon asked in a distracted voice while his fingers nimbly buttone up his cuffs.

"I dunno," Kaylee replied, sitting up in silent acknowledgement that their moment of passion was over for now. "He does make for a pretty good deterrent to fighting. Well, when he's not starting the fights."

Simon looked at her and nodded, thinking back to the events on Ariel. The mercenary had nearly given them up for a fat paycheck, but things had changed through the months in between. They'd all begun to trust Jayne a little bit more, but Simon realized the they hadn't been treating him any differently. Simon had patched Jayne up on many occasions since then and he knew that there was a grudging recpect on the part of the big man for the things that Simon could do. He'd even begun to thank Simon, although it did seem a bit grudging.

"He is more than adequate in a fight," Simon said with a grin at Kaylee, who was shrugging into her jumpsuit. He loved the way she'd decorated it with a string of flowers along the zipper. Everything about Kaylee made him smile.

The complete attention of two men followed River as she drifted, waiflike through what they laughingly referred to as Badgers "sitting room". Since he'd met River, Badger had been doing everything he could to get to know her better, having developed quite the little crush on her.

Badger watched her overtly, with the helpless fascination of a moth courting the flame. He'd tried several times to engage her in conversation to no avail. She'd merely looked at him for a moment, and then let her eyes drift away as though he were of no consequence. She knew that maintaining Badgers good graces meant holding his interest without giving in to it or offending him.

Jayne's attention was much more covert. His eyes never landed on her, but he held every motion she made with a primal awareness. He quietly observed Badger and inside carried a savage smile. He knew that Badger saw River as a fragile crystal swan to be protected. Jayne knew better than most the sharp edges contained in fragile things.

Mal talked business and Badger played along, trying to curry favor with the people that River ran with. He proposed a nice little job for them ferrying semi legitimate goods locally, but the crew was looking for something a bit more far flung. They'd been somewhat adrift since losing Wash and the Shepard, and preferred to let the cold of space treat their wounds. Too many people around and they started getting edgy, especially Zoe.

Knowing that the best way to keep them coming back was to give them a lucrative reason to do so, Badger pointed them in the direction of another of the outer rim planets who was in need of some supplies. He had offered the supplies to them at an outrageous price, but since they were willing to pay it, who was he to complain. Part of the pay was in good old fashioned cash, but a portion of it was in trade goods, cloth and the like. After making sure that none of the trade came in the four legged variety, the crew of Serenity had a new job; one that would keep them in the black for another few weeks.