He must be a heavy sleeper if he missed this. He wonders if he snores too.
Somehow, he can’t quite fathom how, there’s an exercise bench and a full set of weights in the big common area where he and Zoe and Mal sometimes spar. Mal’s beaming like an idiot and rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Wanna try it out?”
Jayne looks over at Zoe, and she nods, confirming that he’s fully healed. He can’t quite keep from grinning a little as he lies on the bench and pulls the weighted bar off the rack. He’s become unused to this kind of exertion, and his arms are soon screaming, but it feels good to know he’s useful again. He looks up at Mal, who’s been spotting him, and tries to smile his thanks. But the storm of emotions on the captain’s face stops him; maybe he got it wrong, though, and Mal’s eyes weren’t shining with guilt and grief, he thinks later. After all, he’d been looking at him upside down.
Kaylee’s keeping an eye on the radar, and the others are having dinner and discussing where best to try to sell the goods from the Pixley job. “Orlo’s the kind of world where they’d appreciate all that fancy kind of foodstuff,” Wash argues.
“Yeah, but they’re also likely to already have more than they need, so they won’t pay as well,” Mal counters. “We need to find a place where these things aren’t readily available but the folk have enough money to spend fair for it.” A lull descends as Jayne continues to shovel food into his mouth and Zoe is absentmindedly pushing a slice of tomato around her plate. “Zoe?” Mal ventures.
“Hmm?” she responds, still not paying attention.
“Hey, you should eat that,” Wash says; “it came from my mother’s garden.” He’s unprepared for the way her eyes snap up to meet his, studying him intently even as she takes a bite.
“Zoe?” Mal says again, a little impatient.
“Small, Alliance-friendly planet’s our best bet,” she says, shifting her gaze to Mal. “Goods are legal, and we should take advantage of that rarity.” She finishes her meal and takes her plate to the sink. She waits for the others to follow suit, as it’s her turn to clean. Each man comes up beside her and puts his empty plate in the sink, and she sees only their hands: Jayne’s big and callused, Mal’s wide and veined, Wash’s strong and square. She turns on the water, trying at the same time to turn off her thoughts. He’s got his mother’s hands, healer’s hands. He won’t hurt her. He’s got a good heart; he brought Jayne to his family. Maybe he meant what he said. She’s not used to men thinking of her as a woman; to most, she’s too good a soldier to be desirable. Maybe she should give him a chance.
If ever Zoe could look mutinous, Mal thinks, it’s at moments like these, which have become all too frequent. She knows what’s coming before he even opens his mouth. It’s a skill he appreciated in battle. Right now, though, he’d prefer the cool courtesy she’d give a stranger. “All right, people, let’s get Serenity lookin’ shiny. Got another person maybe interested in renting shuttle one comin’ onboard.” There’s vague grumbling at the work this will entail when they’ve all got plenty to do already, but there’s hope too that this will be the last time they have to go through this whole thing.
But Mal doesn’t like the man from the minute he steps onto Serenity. He’s a rich kid not quite as grown-up as he thinks, looking to thumb his nose against parental restrictions. He’s willing to pay handsomely, and to give a little extra if Kaylee and Zoe wait on him. He’s not attentive enough to see Mal’s face closing against him, but the others are and know that their two months of such visits have just been extended yet again.
He can’t tell what she’s up to. Kaylee’s not been after him once since he got hurt on Pixley. Maybe she’s worried he’s still healing and doesn’t want to aggravate his injuries. Maybe. But she hasn’t looked up at him with that shyly knowing look either, that darkens her eyes and stretches her smile, the one that’s enough to get him hard. Could be she needs him to make the first move. Jayne leaves his bunk and heads for the engine room. But it’s empty, so he heads to the kitchen to find some grub.
He comes upon her unexpectedly, a small paintbrush in her hand as she decorates the inside of the archway. She’s already covered the lowest section with a meandering design of vines, leaves, and poppy blossoms, and is arching her back slightly as she examines the area above her head. Seeing her in that pose, her throat long and fluid, her hair falling down her back, he remembers the last time he saw her like that, when she was on top of him, rising up over him as a flush pinked her skin and her breath started to come sharp and fast and shuddering. He stands there trapped by his desire for her. He can’t move even when her eyes lock abruptly onto him. And he still can’t move when she gives no sign of recognition or emotion and turns back to face the doorway.
“Goods are legal, shouldn’t need lot of muscle for this job. Jayne, you’ve earned a day off, so . . .”
“No,” Jayne cuts off Mal. “Anybody’s gonna be backing you up, it’s gonna be me.” He’s not about to be left alone on the boat with Kaylee, who’s acting like she’s never met him before, let alone moaned his name in a hundred of Serenity’s shadowy nooks. He’s finally figured it was the blood on Pixley that’s causing her to avert her eyes, but what the hell did she expect? She couldn’t have thought his entire job was to stand behind Mal and look mean. She’d seen him clean his guns, teased him about the polish he lavished on his knives. Wasn’t like he ever shied away when she was covered from ass to eyebrows with engine grease. “Guns okay this time around?” He waits to see her flinch a little before he asks, “Or is it knives only again?”
This is not something Zoe wants to get used to, being left behind while Jayne is sticking to the captain like a burr caught in a saddle blanket. It’s always been her job to guard his back, during the war, but especially now. To try to save him a little bit everyday, the way he saved her as they buried Nikhil.
All of her weapons are in perfect working condition, since she cleaned them last night, thinking she’d be accompanying Mal onto Orlo. There are no jobs for her to do. She heads to the kitchen and peers into her cabinet. She doesn’t hear Wash come up behind her until he opens the door to his own cabinet.
“Hungry?” he smiles politely. She can’t decide between a nod and a shrug, so she simply smiles back. He swallows, then clears his throat. “Well, I’ve got plenty of food from Bolus. Didn’t know if there was a common cabinet, but it’s meant for all of us. Why don’t I fix you something?”
She’s charmed by the offer, but wary of accepting it. She has to be sure before she takes this any further. “I’ll make my own. What are you having?” He pulls out handful after handful of fresh food, laying it all on the table. She fetches two plates and some utensils and sits, waiting for him to join her. Placing a piece of flatbread on her plate, she reaches for the jar of coriander spread.
“Careful,” he warns; “that’s homemade, and my mother likes things spicy.” She spoons it on liberally and hands him the jar. Soon they’re passing jars and cans of his mother’s food back and forth, constantly having to clear space on the crowded table. There seems to be a story behind every dish, and she finds herself remembering and even sharing some of her father’s recipes. Little things she’d thought she’d forgotten are coming back to her now, and her eyes are shining with a mournful peace. Wash is more in love than ever.
“Nice tidy profit,” Mal announced; “looks like Orlo was a fine idea.” He nods amicably at Wash and sees Zoe smile at the acknowledgment. “And we got ourselves another job. Seems a few folks from Orlo – indentured servants, mostly, who’ve earned their freedom – decided to settle on a planet the next system over. They’re in need of iron goods. We’re to pick those up on Lowry and then meet them on Visick for the delivery.” He sees the question on Wash’s face. “And I picked up fuel cells for a journey three times as long. Sky’s ours.”
Continue: Part 14/21