Pacing. Pacing. It’s been hours. Zoe’s worked herself into a fine rage over the idiot pilot’s comments about flirting. Next thing he would have said: “You were asking for it.” She looks down to see her hands clenched in fists so tight it hurts when she starts to uncurl her fingers. No. Why not stay this way. Why not pound something. She wants to make contact with another body so badly. At least with Jayne, it won’t be complicated.
She knocks once on his door and descends before he’s given her permission. He’s sitting with his back to her, a small folding table in front of him. He’s cleaning a gun, and the scent of gun oil is almost his cologne. He’s taking his time snapping the pieces back together, making sure he hears each click, wiping each part down with a rag. She recognizes the rag as the torn shirt he was wearing in the infirmary, and she finds it only too appropriate that he treats his guns and his body the same.
She’s not getting any more patient, waiting for him, but she knows it would do her no good to interrupt. He puts the last piece in its place and asks, “Spar?”
“Knives?” he offers, hanging Meena up, starting to reach for Raji.
“Skin.” She turns and climbs out of his bunk with him right behind. They make their way to the space in the belly of the ship, cleared like a boxing ring. Without warning she kicks at his side, but he blocks with the heels of his hands. She throws a knockout punch. He catches it, twisting her fist in his palm, and tags her with his free hand. That he’s honoring the rule of no hard contact while she is not is only enraging her further. While he’s still got one hand closed around hers, she kicks upward viciously; knee or groin, either target will do, but the length of his arm allows him to skip nimbly back.
“Ruttin’ hell, Zoe!” he snarls, “that ain’t nice.” He shoves her backwards. “The hell’s the matter with you? Ain’t never tried that chou ma niao before. And it ain’t gonna do you any good now,” he adds as she comes at him again. He knocks her flat and pins her quickly, trapping her legs with his thighs, pushing her biceps down with his big hands. “You’d be dead right now,” he tells her. She’s still clawing at him, and her nails reopen the wounds Kaylee had cleaned yesterday. He shifts his grip to her wrists as she struggles, her shirt riding up to leave a few inches of skin exposed. “Zoe!” he bellows, dropping his face down to hers, forcing her eyes to meet his. She goes still when the first drops of his blood hit her bared belly, and then the tension melts out of her. He shifts off her and watches her retreat inward, pull the wildcat back in by the tail. There’s a diamond glint of a tear in her eye. He reaches out and swipes some of his blood off her with a callused finger. His thumb captures the tear the minute it hits her skin. She lies still under his clumsy ministrations. “Let me get Mal.”
He can tell she means it. He shifts uncomfortably.
When she finally sits up, she scoots closer to him. She pulls off his shirt, and though he lifts his arms automatically to help, he doesn’t know what is happening now. She wraps one warm hand around his middle and bends her head, examining his freely bleeding side. “Should cover that again,” she says professionally, and he shrugs, understanding that she’s back to being the unflappable first mate, the resident stoic.
That leaves him free to play toughest man in the ’verse. “Din’t need to be babied last time,” he growls. “Ain’t happenin’ again.” He stands and reaches a hand down to her.
She surprises him all over again by taking it. “It’s an order,” she says, squeezing his hand gently as she brushes by him and heads for the shower.
She stands under the hot water and lets the sweat skim off her, lets Jayne’s blood roll down into the drain. The water is pushing her, flattening her hair into a blanket so heavy she can hardly move her head. She scrubs it clean with gramme powder and twists it atop her head, allowing the spray to hit the nape of her neck. She rolls her shoulders and feels some pressure ease.
The flow of water doesn’t sputter, but it loses its temperature steadily after a few minutes. It cools rapidly but she doesn’t leave. In her mind, she’s back on Veena, the year she turned sixteen.
“chou ma niao” “stinking horse piss”
Continue: Part 5/21