If it weren't for Simon, Jayne would've lost his arm and if it weren't for Jayne, they'd all have been worse off. He kept drawing fire to himself, protecting the others, achieving exactly what Mal was attempting, and because it was the two of them, the rest of the crew was spared the worst of the attack. Jayne's entire right side was braced so he wouldn't accidentally move his mangled arm. They spent the following month planet-side while Simon oversaw countless reconstructive surgeries, attempting to restore every damaged nerve so that Jayne could regain full mobility and as soon as it was safe to move him, Mal started moving them in the direction of work. Medicine wasn't cheap and the kitchen didn't stock itself.
They were half way to Persephone when Jayne called for Mal. He was still mostly laid-up in bed, aside from the physical therapy for his arm and the hours he spent pacing circles around the cargo bay. He'd tried running, but the impact of the footfalls was too much for the moment and Simon refused to up his pain meds. He'd lost a good thirty pounds and his t-shirts hung loosely when he could be bothered to pull one on. Mal knew Jayne didn't have too many issues walking around shirtless, aside from the fact that he was disappointed in the decay of his body. He stayed in the passenger dorms now, because those rooms didn't require use of a ladder and so saved his arm some. Also, it was easier to holler for Simon if something felt wrong.
"You asked for me?" Mal said courteously as he entered the room. Mal hadn't realized how completely Jayne had moved out of his bunk and into this space. He'd even mounted his guns on the wall!
Jayne sat sideways on his bed, the fingers of his left hand twiddling a loose bit of gauze poking out from a wrap on his elbow.
"Yeah, Mal. You need to hire a new merc."
"It's mighty kind of you to keep looking after me, but I'm no use to you like this, so it don't make sense to keep me on the payroll."
"Fine, I won't pay you," Mal agreed, not seeing the point in arguing. In truth, he hadn't thought too hard about how he'd split the take on this next job. As much as it made sense not to cut Jayne in since he couldn't participate, Mal knew it was wrong to shaft the man who had so recently saved his life. "But since I got you mangled, I'm paying for your meds."
"Fair enough," Jayne replied, though he looked disappointed – like he'd wanted a fight.
"No sense hiring a new merc just yet. Zoë and I were running jobs a good while before you came along."
Jayne made a disgruntled face, avoiding Mal's eye. Mal couldn't tell if he was biting back an insult or something else, but he figured if it were the first, Jayne wouldn't've held back.
"Were you thinkin' to go some place else?"
Jayne shrugged as much as he could with his arm braced the way it was. "Doc says Persephone has a decent Physical Therapy facility; might help me fix-up faster."
"He did tell me that," Mal acknowledged. "Did you want to get left?"
Jayne's head lolled noncommittally and he started picking invisible lint off the bed sheets.
"We're on Persephone in two days time."
"I should –" Jayne began, then stopped himself and started shifting to lay down in the bed. "Sleep."
Mal nodded, watching pitifully as Jayne arranged his arm comfortably on the narrow bed, then reached for the blanket that he'd kicked just a little too far out of reach. Cautious of the man's dignity, Mal crossed the room and reached for the blanket.
"You're welcome to stay here," he said softly.
Jayne froze, looking up at him simultaneously grateful, confused, vulnerable, and defensive. Although Mal had been planning to simply put the blanket in Jayne's hand, Jayne lay still, letting Mal pull the blanket to his chin, tucking him in. Was it Mal's imagination, or had Jayne's chin nuzzled ever so slightly against his hand? To a point, it didn't matter. The man saved his life and his crew. Mal would give him a world if he could.
As soon as they set foot on Persephone, Jayne went immediately to a public gym to find a stationary bike. Simon had told him that it was lower impact than running, so he could get more of a workout without jarring his arm. They were all grateful to see him off, because the man was truly insufferable trapped inside his own body. Some days he'd work himself until he was screaming from pain, other days he'd just scream because he knew he couldn't work himself the way he wanted. Mal was tired of Jayne screaming for no reason and figured if he couldn't exercise his body, he needed to exercise his mind, so after he and Zoë finished setting up the job, Mal went into town to look for an answer.
Jayne wasn't schooled in the traditional sense, but he wasn't stupid. He was simply specialized. Very, very specialized. He knew everything there was to know about weaponry: projectiles, blades, lasers. He could name an infinite number of grenades and even order them according to size, power, and price. He knew about ancient weapons, modern weapons, government-classified weapons, and even some weapons still under development. The man clearly had a sharp and focused mind. Getting Jayne a book on weapons seemed about as pointless as getting Kaylee a book on engines. He lived and breathed that part of himself and any words would be wasted.
Mal made a mental list of Jayne's other interests. He liked money, but only so far as he could spend it on alcohol or trim. He liked sex, but how does one man give another man a book on sex without it being weird? It wasn't like he and Jayne had that kind of friendship. Mal rubbed the bridge of his nose and thought back to dinner the previous night when Jayne had been ribbing him terribly about something or other. Mal had let him go, even egging him on with some snarky comebacks, because he knew Jayne had no other way of letting off steam. Plus, if he deflected, he knew Jayne would turn on Inara or Kaylee making coarse jokes that only he would be laughing at. Jayne did like to laugh.
Stepping into the bookstore, Mal decided to head for the humor section. There had to be something in there with that mix of sharp thinking and crude humor that Jayne liked. Maybe something a little higher level even, so that it wouldn't seem like Mal was encouraging the bad behavior. Mal decided he'd get something that he wouldn't mind reading too, because he hated wasting coin and in all likelihood, Jayne wouldn't even read it.
That evening, Mal found Jayne in his room, legs in the air like a dead cockroach, rocking ever so slightly, wincing every time he rocked toward his injured arm.
"Need some meds?"
"Waiting for 'em to kick in," Jayne answered, immediately lying flat and nonchalant like he was embarrassed to be caught. "Doc said I rode so much they all meta – metallized out of my system."
Mal nodded and took the seat opposite the bed. He'd brought Serenity's ledger and figured he could get some work done and keep Jayne company at the same time. It occurred to Mal that Jayne might not scream for no reason if someone else was in the room telling him to shut up.
"You think I could sell my weight set and get me one of them stationary bikes?" Jayne mused, staring at the ceiling, clearly trying not to show signs of pain.
"Just because you're not using the weights doesn't mean no one is."
"They're still mine."
Mal smiled to himself. "No reason to get rid of one to have t'other. I'll bring it up with the crew and see if we can't pool together some earnings from this next take."
"How long is this run?"
"About a week."
Jayne's head pressed into the pillow, clearly frustrated, and Mal looked doubtfully at the book he'd bought wondering just how hard Jayne might laugh at him for offering it.
"I got you this," Mal finally said, presenting the gift. "To pass the time."
Jayne lifted his head off the pillow, processed the sight, then lay back down. "A book?"
"What else you got to do?"
When Jayne didn't move again, Mal tipped open the cover and read the first line. He was pleased when Jayne chuckled lightly. It was the first line that had sold Mal on the book as well. Encouraged by the response, Mal continued reading the first paragraph, then on through the first page. Jayne listened, smiling broadly, and after his meds kicked in, he even sat himself up a little so that he could watch Mal read. When Mal reached the end of the first chapter, their eyes met and they both busted out laughing.
"See, it ain't so bad," Mal smiled, handing over the book, then returning to his chair. He figured Jayne would keep reading and he could get back to his bookkeeping. Having only the one arm, Jayne finagled a little, folding his leg so he could keep the book open with his foot, then read through squinted eyes, following the words with his fingers. Mal was surprised when he started reading out loud.
Jayne was a slow reader, comparatively, but very thorough. Sometimes he'd stop and re-read the longer sentences, just to make sure he didn't miss any of the jokes. Mal abandoned his ledger and folded into the chair, listening along. It amazed him how soothing it was to hear someone else's voice reading a story, taking him for a journey, not pressing him to consider anything beyond the hilarity of the moment. When Jayne got to the end of the chapter, they looked at each other and laughed again.
Jayne flipped through the remaining chapters, counting on his fingers. "Suppose we should ration ourselves and save some for the rest of the week."
"Sounds like a plan," Mal agreed, gathering his things and making sure Jayne was settled before he headed out.
After the first night, stopping by Jayne's room to read chapters became part of Mal's routine. When they finished the first book, they bought two more by the same author, and then Jayne picked out one with political humor because he said Mal needed to learn to laugh at the government. Some of the jokes hit a little close to home for Mal's taste, but it was nice having someone besides Zoë who would openly mock the Alliance with him.
They alternated who read when, mostly deciding based on how tired Mal was after working all day. Jayne often asked Mal to sit next to him on the bed when he read, because it was easier with Mal holding the book and turning the pages for him. Even after Simon released Jayne from the immobilizing arm brace, Mal held the book, because he liked reading along as he listened to Jayne. The time together seemed to temper Jayne's mood swings while exponentially increasing the number of inside jokes the two men shared. Jayne was getting much faster at reading and even confessed to re-reading many of the chapters when Mal wasn't available to entertain him. He never read ahead, though. He said he liked to experience the jokes with Mal first – or would've said if he possessed that kind of eloquence. It didn't sound nearly as sentimental when Jayne said it.
"What should we read next?" Jayne asked after they finished the last chapter of their latest book.
Mal turned the book in his hands, considering his answer. This one had been too good for them to ration properly. "I'm sure the Doctor has something … readable."
Jayne laughed in his face, then reclined against the wall, tugging on his hair just so his fingers would have something to do.
"It's only two days to Boros. You want to help me fix the books?" Mal offered. "Alliance is sure to audit us this time around."
"Don't know nothing about that."
"You can learn," Mal said encouragingly. Looking back, Mal had learned an awful lot about just about everything when he was laid up with shrapnel wounds to the spine that left him paralyzed a good half a year.
Jayne shrugged noncommittally, but didn't say no.
It shouldn't have surprised Mal that Jayne was ambidextrous. He'd always assumed Jayne was right handed because (a) it was his gun hand; and (b) wasn't everyone? But then, whenever Jayne held two guns, he kept the small one in his left hand and aimed it just fine. Mal had seen him throw knives with both hands equally well. And it wasn't like Jayne had a choice at the moment, so it really should not have surprised Mal when Jayne picked up the pen with his left hand and started writing just as neatly as he normally did with his right (which wasn't very).
Turns out Jayne was almost as good with numbers as he was with grenades. If he knew the take, the number of people, and their percentage, he could spit out each person's cut without so much as a blink. To him, the division of cash after a heist was basic survival instinct. If a boss left half a percent lying unclaimed, Jayne would make sure it fell in his cut and if a boss tried to cheat him… well, Mal was certainly glad he'd never tried to cheat Jayne.
One thing Jayne didn't like was the concept of fake books, because government red tape was the least advantageous kind of split there was. The issue was to work the fake books so that they didn't owe taxes on their earnings, but stayed above welfare levels because then the audits would come more frequently.
Jayne got frustrated with bookkeeping the first night and consequently worked himself harder with the physical therapy and running around the cargo bay the next day. Mal decided he'd finish on his own and maybe he and Jayne could spend the evening talking or something.
After supper, he found Jayne lying on his bed, drenched with sweat, pressing a free weight with his left arm, grunting with every heft. One of Jayne's legs dangled over the side of the bed, pressing against the floor to give him leverage and his whole body shook with strain. Mal came over and swiped the weight from him in midair and Jayne's arm collapsed over his torso as he gasped for breath, looking like he'd just been released from a torture chamber.
"Thought today was abs and legs," Mal said solemnly as he set the weight on the opposite side of the room. He knew Jayne had spent the better part of the afternoon on his bike. Jayne panted and gritted his teeth, his face contorted with strain.
"Needed to do something so it wouldn't hurt so much," Jayne wheezed, his trembling left hand reaching over to soothe his right arm.
"You needed to stop before you started hurting," Mal chastised, coming over to sit by the bed. "I'm sure Simon won't up your doses for stupidity."
"Can't anyway," Jayne hissed, wiping sweat from his face with the back of his hand. "Kaylee got burned yesterday on the engine. With both of us using meds … ran out this morning."
Mal's jaw tensed, finally understanding, but wondering why he hadn't been told. He knew about Kaylee getting burned and all, but not about the meds running dry. That needed immediate dealing.
"Don't move. I'll be back in a bit," Mal ordered, as if Jayne had any choice in the matter. He went first to find Simon and assess the drug situation. It turned out that Simon had offered half-doses to both Jayne and Kaylee to spread out the meds, but Jayne had declined and told Simon to let Kaylee have it all. There was no point in her suffering since she was still a hard-working part of the crew. Simon told Mal he'd held back half the dose in case Jayne changed his mind, but not twenty minutes before Mal came, Simon had found Kaylee curled up in her hammock in too much pain to breathe, let alone call for help, so he'd relented and given it to her. There was nothing medically that could be done for Jayne so all that was left was to make him comfortable until they landed the next morning.
Mal went to Inara next, because if anyone knew about making a man comfortable, she did. She came with Mal back to Jayne's room, bringing an arsenal of soft towels, soothing oils, and the only variety of incense that Jayne actually liked (in three years and over two-hundred varieties, they had only yet identified the one). Jayne was still reeling when they entered, but he tried to mask it when he saw Inara. Mal arranged Jayne on the bed and sponged him clean while Inara set up the first bit of incense and started warming the oil between her palms, explaining to Jayne in a soothing voice what she was about to do. Mal sat by the pillow as she worked, keeping eye contact with Jayne, sharing stories about drunken adventures and past heists, trying to distract him from the pain. Jayne gazed up at him, blue eyes open, exposed, and weary, pleading for freedom from this prison. As Inara massaged Jayne's right arm, his left folded up and his fingers grazed Mal's thigh ever so lightly, like he wanted to say thank you, but couldn't use words. Mal wasn't quite sure when it became okay for Jayne to touch him. If it were Zoë laid up in bed, it wouldn't have been an issue. He and Zoë had strict boundaries. But Jayne had always been more lax about physical contact and it meant something different to him.
When Inara told Jayne to flip and lay on his stomach, Mal stood up. He wanted to learn what she was doing, so that he could do this too. Sometimes Inara had clients and wasn't available for this. At least that's what Mal said out loud. He couldn't explain what was truly tugging his heart, but it seemed important that Mal know how to do this.
Inara was a good teacher. She had Mal remove his shirt and demonstrated on his own skin so he'd know exactly which muscles he was supposed to be hitting on each stroke. Mal warmed the oil between his fingers and set to work. He could see the muscles on Jayne's right side were weak, small, and atrophied, but now that he felt it with his own hands, his heart broke for the man.
There was a lot of starting and stopping as Inara showed Mal how to do something on Jayne, then demonstrated again on his own body, and then set Mal to work. Jayne didn't seem to mind. He'd stopped gritting his teeth awhile ago, and the tension was slowly melting off his face. When Mal paused to get more oil for his hands, he noticed that Jayne had already fallen asleep.
They landed on Beaumonde just as the leaves were falling. Jayne had weaned off his meds to the point where Simon said it was okay to start drinking again, and the news had the man bouncing around the cargo bay like a child at Christmas, waiting anxiously for the door to open. Since his motives and destination were clear as a whistle, Simon splinted up his arm and strapped it against his torso so he wouldn't forget himself and break it all over again in a bar fight, but Jayne didn't mind at all. He'd exchange his right arm for whiskey!
Mal reined him in with a list of supplies they needed, and sent Jayne to stock the ship while he and Zoë lined up the next job. He'd been doing that the last few worlds now – putting Jayne in charge of restocking things. So long as there wasn't too much heavy lifting involved, Jayne could manage it fine, and Mal knew it helped him feel less useless. Jayne was building strength in his right side now, though he was still only a shadow of his former self. He'd started holding back working out the left side so he wouldn't look uneven, but he still did a little bit. Mal would never tell him though.
Zoë came with Mal and Jayne to the bar that evening and it was like old times where they sat in a round booth in the corner and played Chinese checkers while listening to bad music blaring over the din of falling silverware. Jayne took his drinks slow, tempering with the fresh food. Mal smiled to himself, remembering the conversation he'd had with Jayne the night before – Jayne worried that in his months of abstinence and weight-loss that he'd become a light-weight and didn't want to waste coin getting drunker than he needed to be. Jayne was a little tipsy by the third hour and Zoë decided to retire early because the public baths opened at sunrise. As soon as Zoë disappeared, the whores started soliciting their table, and Mal started to appreciate the power of Zoë's presence in their group.
Mal turned sideways in the booth, peaking one leg on the bench and resting his arm over the back. Jayne matched the position facing him so that their toes touched, but it wasn't nearly so convenient for Jayne because his left arm was against the wall and he had to reach across himself to get his drink.
"Want me to find you a girl and leave you be?" Mal offered, knowing it had been nearly half a year since Jayne had done more than take himself in hand. It was clear from the open way they were sitting that Jayne was a bit stiff.
"Naw," Jayne answered almost immediately, ducking his head toward his drink and tapping his fingers against his chest. He looked uncertainly at Mal, then at the point in the middle of the booth where their toes touched.
"Kinda rather…" he began sheepishly, but then trailed off. Suddenly Mal felt Jayne's foot against his under the table. By some magic, Jayne had slipped off his other boot and was now running his toe up the inside of Mal's leg, and then he just left his foot right on the bench, a hair's breadth from Mal's crotch. Mal looked down in surprise, swallowing thoughtfully and wondering if he should press forward and complete the connection, but that didn't seem right. Instead, he reached out his arms and turned Jayne again so they were resting front to back against each other. It was a strangely intimate position to experiment with in such a public setting, but for some reason, it felt right and natural. Mal kept his right arm draped casually over the back of the booth and his left hand rested under the table on Jayne's thigh. Jayne's hand came to rest over his and for a long moment, they both stayed still, absorbing the sudden change in their relationship.
Mal's mind whirred over the fact that Jayne's foot had been resting just millimeters from his crotch, and now Jayne was leaning against him. If Jayne scooted his hips back half an inch, he would no doubt feel Mal swelling. Tentatively, Mal's hand wandered up Jayne's thigh, across his hip, and then stroked him through his pants. Jayne squirmed slightly (enough to accidentally brush against Mal) and then with a firm grip, he guided Mal's hand up away from the whole crotch area. It was almost a relief in Mal's mind that Jayne was still hesitant even though he'd made the first move.
Jayne couldn't believe the turn the night was taking and wondered if there were some kind of drugs in his drink to make him be wanting what he was. Truth be told, it was somewhere in the middle of reading that third book that he'd started thinking of Mal's smile when he was jerking himself off. He'd never thought anything of it until Mal offered to find him a whore and he realized they'd been coming non-stop to the table the last hour and he hadn't noticed a single one.
He'd never been good with words and was grateful that Mal was more surprised than repulsed at his suggestive invitation. And although the suggestion had been his, he wasn't sure he had it in him to complete the offer. His worry tripled when he felt Mal's hands wandering over his body again.
With two fingers on Jayne's cheek, Mal turned his chin so they were facing, and then he leaned in and kissed softly. Jayne's mouth twitched, wanting to respond, but he kept it closed, letting Mal's lips brush against his skin soft as angel's breath. Jayne chased a little when Mal started pulling away, but they broke the kiss and both looked away from each other, embarrassed. Jayne peeked out checking to see if any one in the bar was watching them, and noticed at least one person ducking away quickly.
"Did you want to get a room," Mal stammered, his voice low, his eyes still darting about like a rabbit in a cage.
"No. Just stay here for now," Jayne answered, leaning against Mal awkwardly, trying to hide the fact that he was shaking like a leaf. "I think this is all I want tonight."
Mal pulled back sharply, considering him with an incredulous chuckle. "Jayne Cobb! Shy about sex?"
He'd said it too loudly and they both shrank into the booth again, their eyes shooting warnings at the lookers. Jayne stared at his feet – one booted, one bare – and tapped his fingers shamefully on the table.
"I don't want to take you like some whore."
"I'm flattered," Mal remarked sardonically, but then let it drop. His hands settled around Jayne's waist again, his head resting against Jayne's shoulder. Whatever the future, it was clear they were both comfortable here, now, with this.
When Mal spoke again, he was quiet, serious, and gentle. "You've known me awhile now, Jayne. You know I don't fool around when it comes to sex, so when you see me offering, you know it ain't like that."
Jayne shifted uncomfortably, squirming but at the same time trying not to disrupt Mal's hold on him.
"Then give me time," he finally managed. "You only just kissed me and that means something… Means a lot …"
Jayne hesitated on his next confession, but decided it necessary. He looked sideways at Mal, then forward again.
"Ain't never kissed a man before," Jayne admitted, cringing in anticipation of ridicule.
Mal nodded slowly, and kept holding him and after a few tense breaths, Jayne sighed in relief. Mal was very good at keeping silent when it came to Jayne's dignity. It was one of the reasons Jayne didn't mind Mal nursing him the way he minded some others.
"Want another drink?" Mal asked, ending the long silence.
They flagged down the waitress, and ordered another plate of wontons and sake, never moving from their strange little embrace. It worked better for Jayne having his left arm on the table within easy access of food and drink. Mal had moved his one arm from the back of the booth to a possessive drape around Jayne's shoulders, but thankfully didn't try anything cute like feeding him or what not. Feeling more confident, Jayne leaned back to kiss Mal, this time opening his mouth. It was all rough and playful between them with their teeth clacking and nipping at each other's lips and tongues. It was the kind of kiss Jayne could get used to. After a few more minutes, they settled to sitting peacefully again, poking at the last of their food.
"How's it work anyway?" Jayne asked. "Sex between men?"
Mal took a quick drink and shook his head. "I suppose it's the same as with women, only twice the options because you get to switch off giving and taking… and no breasts."
"You suppose?" Jayne repeated.
Mal shrugged and smiled devilishly. "I ain't never been with a man neither."
Jayne turned a little to look Mal full in the face, wondering how he seemed so confident being with another man after having never been while Jayne was all twisted inside.
"Then how do you know …?"
"It ain't about being with men or women. It's about me and you and I know I want to be with you," Mal answered assuredly. They looked square at each other a solid minute before Jayne's mind quieted enough for him to relax against Mal again.
"So we'll just make it up as we go?"
"The sex?" Mal needled, squeezing him lightly. "We could always get a book."
Jayne laughed at first, thinking it was a joke, but then he turned to face Mal again. "They make books for this?"
"They make books for every damn thing."
Jayne's mind set on the prospect of a new book and he scooted quickly out of the booth, found his boot under the table, and grabbed Mal's hand. "You think the store is still open?"
Jayne never thought he'd be so excited to find a book store open late on Tuesdays! What's more, he never thought he'd be holding Mal's hand, loose though their grip was. In fact, it wasn't more than a light grazing of the backs of their fingers, but it was all the connection Jayne needed in order to know this wasn't their usual mischief.
The clerk eyed them suspiciously because they were both a bit tipsy at this point, though Mal was insistent that they pay for the book and not steal it. They couldn't get the one Jayne wanted because it was too expensive and they couldn't get the one Mal wanted because all the writing was pretentious and the pictures were … not helpful. The one they ended up with didn't have any pictures, but wo de ma, Jayne felt like he'd gotten an eyeful just from reading the first paragraph!
They ran back to Serenity all snickers and giggles and at the back door, Jayne tackled Mal, throwing him against the hull of the ship, and attacking him with rough, playful kisses. Mal laughed into his mouth, alternately beating him off and pulling him closer. When they heard the latch on the back door turning, both of them jumped out of the kiss, trying to right their appearances. Jayne wasn't sure about Mal, but he wasn't ready to come out to the crew just yet. Ta ma de, he was barely out to himself.
River peeked out the door, considering them both with a raised eyebrow. Jayne swore under his breath, wondering if she even needed to be a reader to guess what she'd interrupted. She held the door open for them wordlessly, closed it behind, and waited for one of them to speak first.
"I should –" Mal began, motioning for the stairs. He started walking away awkwardly, leaving Jayne looking after him wondering that the rug had been pulled out so quickly.
"You got time to read tonight?" Jayne asked, holding the bag with the book in it aloft.
Mal paused and looked back, his face completely business-like. "Maybe tomorrow. See if the Doc's still awake and can get that thing off your arm."
Mal walked up the stairs and River floated after him, looking between the two, and almost seemed to be gloating. Crestfallen, Jayne stomped off to his room and threw the book against the bed. Then he started kicking himself for getting in such a twist about the whole thing. Wasn't like he and Mal were … anything right now, aside from two men who'd spent the evening making out. It meant everything and nothing all at the same time.
Jayne picked up the book and flipped through some of the pages. In the store, it had been easy, almost like a joke because there had been so many books. They were just playing around, being tipsy and happy and not getting into bar fights. He wasn't sure he was ready to sit down and read a book like this with Mal for anything other than a little entertainment. That's all he wanted really. That's all it had to be.
Resigning himself to the version of the truth that was easiest for him to live with, Jayne went in search of Simon to get the gorram brace off his arm so he could rest normal and maybe jerk off thinking of Mal. He'd always preferred his right hand over his left in that regard. Simon's mood was arrogant as always and he patiently removed the various straps and splints, mockingly applauding Jayne for managing to stay out of trouble.
"No fight, Jayne I'm impressed. What did you do all night?"
"Talked with Mal. Got a new book."
"A joy," Simon intoned sarcastically. "More crude humor to enjoy at the dinner table."
Jayne leered, ready to make Simon squirm. "Nope. This one ain't funny at all. This one's about sex."
Simon scoffed, but failed to blush. "Is your imagination failing you?"
"Man on man?" Jayne goaded, dropping the detail in hopes of getting a rise. "Guess my imagination never took me there before."
"Why would you get a book on –" Simon paused and considered Jayne. Coming out wasn't nearly as hard as Jayne thought, though also not nearly as gratifying. He'd wanted to see Simon squirm.
"You and Mal?" Simon verified, and Jayne had to wonder at Simon's ease on the notion. He wouldn't expect someone so proper like Simon to accept a sly man into his company.
Jayne nodded slowly, grateful to see only acceptance in Simon's face. Not approval, but at least there was no ridicule there. Simon didn't say anything else while he finished his work. As Jayne stood to go, Simon opened a drawer, pulled out a jar of something, and handed it to Jayne.
"What is this stuff?"
"It's a lubricant," Simon answered patiently. "I use it for prostate exams and the like."
Jayne looked at the jar, squinting uncertainly. He didn't like the sound of what Simon was saying, and didn't understand why Simon was giving him something new after they'd worked so hard to get him off the painkillers.
"Why are you giving it to me?"
"Read your book," Simon smiled, patting him on the shoulder. "You'll figure it out."
Jayne set the lubricant jar on the table next to the book, starting to get an idea, but not wanting to think too much about it. Or maybe think just a little. All that rough kissing had gotten him hard. It was the kind of kissing he liked to do with girls, but rarely found one aggressive enough to play. The kind of kissing he'd stopped doing after being victimized by the same goodnight-kiss Mal had gotten from Saffron. Jayne had stopped kissing for a long while, because he never wanted to kiss someone he didn't trust and he'd only ever been with strangers for so long. Kissing came so easy with Mal. Lots of things did.
Jayne stroked himself lazily through his pants, thinking back to how Mal's hand had brushed over him earlier in the bar. Mal had offered they get a room for the night. It was a kind offer considering neither of them had any idea what they were doing. What did such a thing mean to Mal? What had Mal planned on trying? The offer rang in Jayne's mind, crowding out his own thoughts which were simply demanding to know what he himself wanted from all of this.
With swift determination, Jayne left the passenger dorms, stalked up to the crew quarters, and knocked on Mal's door. He waited shiftily, hearing some shuffling from inside. When Mal opened the door, he wore only a towel which tented traitorously, so Jayne had no question about what he'd been up to. He looked at Jayne expectantly, waiting for him to state his business.
"Towel doesn't cover much," Jayne commented.
Mal stepped back from the entrance leaving the hatch open and Jayne took that as an invitation. Mal's bunk was huge compared to Jayne's, decorated serenely with a little tree and a few trinkets.
"Got an itch myself," Jayne continued, irritated by the silence. "Thought maybe…"
Thought maybe what? What did he want Mal to do? Mal turned slowly, offering a mug of coffee. He had two of them ready on the table like he'd been expecting company.
"You want a hand?" Mal asked innocuously, taking a sip of his drink.
Jayne nearly choked at the offer, even though by rights, he should've expected it. "So long as it's only a hand," he warned, adding in his mind the words 'this time.'
Mal nodded considerately taking another sip of coffee. Jayne drank too, glad to have something counteracting the alcohol in his system and helping him think straight. Or – well – clear. They both drained their cups, then Mal leaned against the wall for an awful long while looking at him.
"You willing to return the favor?" Mal asked
Jayne leered at the tented towel wrapped around Mal's waist and stepped closer, flicking his fingers across the tuck and sending the covering to the floor.
"Mayhaps I'll offer first and you'll do the returning."