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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE
Jayne, Jayne, Jayne. NC-17 for adult content (sex, cussin', violence). Thanks for reading!!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1050 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Shying Away (Pt. 3)--Who She Was
It had been a long gorram day working on the new skiff with Wash and Mal, one that had sucked ass to a degree unparalleled in Jayne's experience. Whereabouts back on Govanne Mal'd found the busted up, broken down heap of trouble-ridden gos se, Jayne couldn't begin to guess even if he wanted to expend the energy, which he most certainly did not. But the captain had paid cash for it and was damned single-minded about how it would hold wind again if they just spent enough time turning screws and welding pieces to it while listening to Wash crack damn fool jokes the whole time. Gorram it, what a shit-ass day.
But he had to admit the shit-assiness of it was mitigated somewhat when he ran into Shy on his way to shower the day off his skin. When he passed through the passenger lounge on his way to the shower closet, she got a whiff of him where she was sitting by herself reading and set aside her book without a word. Rising, she took his hand and dragged back to his bunk where she told him the scent of his sweat made her hot, and jumped on him. The resulting sex was loud, strenuous and more than a little dirty--which did not suck at all. Except, of course, when it did. Literally.
So all in all, Jayne decided maybe there was some gorram balance in the 'verse after all. Even if Wash's smart-ass jokes had to be a part of it. He bent his free arm--the one not wrapped around Shy's damp, naked, tattooed shoulders--behind his head and closed his eyes. There were worse ways for a man to live, he supposed, as he began to drift off into a well-earned working man's sleep.
"Who was she?"
Shy's voice in his ear perked Jayne right up the way a bucket of ice water upended over his crotch might. Never, ever, not even once, did those words coming from a woman lying naked with him mean anything but badness. Sometimes the running-out-the-back-door-trying-to-pull-on-his-pants-while-getting-shot-at kind of badness.
Jayne thought about pretending he was asleep but decided since his eyes had flown open when she spoke and Shy wasn't any kind of a lack-brain, it likely wouldn't work.
But wait just a gorram minute; it wasn't like they were bound to each other in any man and woman kind of way, except for how Jayne sure as shit didn't want her bound to anyone else. No big deal, then. He hoped. "Gorram it, what kind of question is that?" He groused at her, "She who?"
Shy snugged up tighter against him, played her fingers through the hair on his chest, ignoring the best stony look he could cast at her. "The one who taught you how to bed a woman."
Now there was a question no female person who asked it ever really wanted to know the answer to; Jayne’d learned that one early on, too. "Oh. Well, now..."
Shy leaned up on an elbow to look closer at him. "I'll be damned. Everything we've done to each other naked and this is all it takes to turn you bashful? I must be losing my touch." Lying back down she chuckled and flounced onto her side, away from him.
When her skin wasn't touching him anymore, she was suddenly much too far away. Jayne pulled her back to him to set the record straight, "You ain't either." Shy leaned against him, running her fingers over his hip and thigh lightly, idly; Jayne forgot what he was saying for a moment. "But what the hell you want to go and ask something like that for?"
"Because I want to know." She turned easily in the circle of his arm to face him again, the tattooed length of her a sinuous wash of moving colors, and drew meandering shapes on his bare belly skin with a fingertip.
It was compelling and distracting, the way that tickled, especially when that same fingertip began to travel the dark path of hair leading to that thick and curly place where his john thomas was enjoying a well-deserved nap. Oh hell, he figured, what sane man would argue? Taking her hand Jayne placed it where it would do the most good. And ai ya, Shy did not disappoint him. Lying back, Jayne closed his eyes again and let his world narrow to where her hand began deftly working him into a state he was going to have to do something about pretty soon, one way or another.
"Here's the thing." Her fingers fluttered and danced along the length of him. "When you’ve been under as many men as me, you notice stuff."
Jayne opened his eyes, raised his head and frowned at her. "Hey, now. The picture ain't helping me along any." But he was lying outright; that picture didn't matter a whit, not now, not when her hand was busy with him that way.
She knew it, too, and chuckled. "Bizui, pirate. Point is, a woman who knows men knows when one's trying to be good and when one's just... good. And aren't none of us born that way.”
Jayne imagined there might be some kind of compliment buried in there someplace but he didn't have the time or inclination to go mining for it. Not right now, not when his joint was beginning to howl so loud for her that he couldn't hear anything else. First things first. “Don’t much care long as I get mine.”
“Sure,” her hand never missed a beat, so to speak, “But you know the same difference on a woman.”
And he did. But he didn’t care. He couldn’t care, right now; that hand was taking him fast to a place he was going to go with or without her. “So the hell what? I’m hard as redemption over here and you want me to answer gorram questions all night?”
“No,” Shy grinned and threw a long leg over him, murmuring low and smutty in her throat, “No, that’s not what I want you to do at all.”
Jayne didn’t need to hear any more than that, and pulled her up on top of him. Then, with a matched pair of deep indrawn breaths, it was on and the subject of who she was, tabled.
But it wasn’t gone.
Who was she?
Jayne was welding some long piece of steel to another piece of steel he'd welded to the skiff yesterday, trying to keep the bead straight at the ridiculous angle he was working at, leaning sideways and belly down halfway over the side when a picture came to him all sudden-like. It was a picture of someone he'd all but forgotten, dredged, no doubt, out of his mind by his confounding tattooed lover's gorram confounding question last night.
It was the picture of a girl Jayne knew back when he was nothing but a lanky kid, taller than every one of his friends and not yet grown into his own big, bony frame.
She lived next door to his folks' place. Since they'd played together as kids it seemed logical that they continued to do so long after they'd outgrown games of Runners-and-Feds. Her hand had been the first one to touch Jayne there that was not his own, and most of the time she did it almost as often as he asked her to.
She let him touch her, too, and he remembered clear enough how it was like some special brand of magic the way her face changed when he did it right, like when a bullet he'd fired hit its target exactly where Jayne'd meant it to. With a young marksman's eye for detail, Jayne learned to change her expression with precision, accuracy and a steady hand.
What the hell was her name, anyway?
Once Jayne had grown into himself, grown strong and lean and hungry, he'd gone off to work; she'd grown into herself even more and was some pretty hot property last time he'd seen her, all hemmed 'round by puffed-up rich men's sons. Last he'd thought of her was too long ago to be sure of--he thought maybe he'd heard tell she got herself married and moved to some world closer to the core. Or maybe that she'd died of the damp-lung. Jayne couldn't remember for sure. But what was her name?
Jame frowned behind his shield-mask, trying to pull her name back to him.
No, that weren't it. It was longer. Something like Elizabeth, but not.
He almost had it, could feel it hanging around the edges of his mind.
Someone pounded hard on the beam he was leaning over; it made him blink and look down into Mal's face. Jayne knew the look--Mal was powerful pissed about something. It was visible even around the welding goggles over Mal's eyes And then it came to him.
"Ellisand." That was her name. Ellisand.
Mal's eyes grew darker and wider behind the glass than Jayne had thought possible. "Turn that ruttin' torch off before you melt a hole in my gorram boat." The captain didn't have to raise his voice much to sound damned upset. Jayne thumbed the fuel switch off on the welding torch and the sparks fizzled and died.
When it was out, he raised his shield. "What flew up your drawers?"
Mal tore his goggles off and swelled visibly, he took such a deep breath. "Oh, I don’t know--maybe it was a chunk of that slag you're slopping all the hell over the place. Where's your damn head at, Jayne? 'Cause it sure as hell ain't here fixing this mule, where I told it to be."
Jayne looked down at his work. The last part was a mess all right, the weld wavy and slagged, and when he looked further down, damned if Mal wasn't right. There was a fair amount of mess spattered about where molten steel had dropped and run from the seam unnoticed. Jayne pulled himself upright to sitting on the beam he'd been hanging over, and cleared his throat. "Damn shame, that there."
"No shit." Mal fixed him with a narrow-eyed glare. "You conjure a way to fix it, Jayne?" But without waiting for a reply Mal answered his own question. "’Cause I have an idea: how about you do your gorram job right the first gorram time?"
"Come on, Mal," Jayne set the welding wand torch on the beam with a sigh and a frown. "You know I ain't a ruttin' welder anyhow! I shoot things. And hit stuff. Hell--Zoë welds better than me and she's--"
"If you say 'a girl' Jayne, so help me, I will let her have at you once and for all." Mal fisted his hands on his hips.
Jayne considered having at Zoe for a moment--not for the first or last time, either, not by a long shot--and decided Mal must mean a different kind of having than that. “I was gonna say 'infantry,'" Jayne pointed out before lowering his head. "I'm just a little off today. Didn't get much sleep is all."
Mal stepped closer and his eyes blazed hotter, if that was even possible. "Look here, Jayne, 'cause I'm only saying it the once." Mal's voice had dropped low so Jayne had to pay attention to hear him, but there was no missing the anger in it. "I got no problem transporting Shy that I wouldn't take up with her direct--she don't cause trouble or eat much far as I can tell, and she ain't underfoot every time I turn around. But if her contribution to being a passenger on my boat is to hump you useless all night long, we're all gonna have a problem--you, me and her. Fact is, that skiff don't run, we got no ground transport. No ground transport means fewer jobs. Fewer jobs means hardship, and not a one of us welcomes any more of that. Especially if it comes from you getting your gorram deck waxed till you're too wrung out to do your damn job. Dong luh ma?"
He held Jayne's gaze unblinking until Jayne looked down. "Yeah, Mal. I got it. Sorry."
Mal stood and looked at him for a long moment, then said, turning on his heel, "If I was you, I'd get the cutting torch, hack that chunk back off, and start all over with your head where it belongs."
Jayne knew he was right, but it didn't make him wish it was otherwise any less. At least Wash had made himself scarce when Mal started ranking him out. That was something, Jayne supposed. The captain could use a good hump himself; might shake him loose and improve his humor some. With a sigh, Jayne lowered himself from the beam and jumped the last few feet to the deck to go get the cutting torch.
Ellisand. That was her name.
He made it to the shower this time without running into Shy, which was sort of disappointing. But he went on ahead to scrub the dirt and sweat and dust off him anyhow. Hot as his sweat might make her, no woman worth having wanted to get skin-to-skin with a man who stunk as much of dirty slag and flux and cut metal as Jayne could smell on himself right now.
His shower was uneventful until he was finishing up, and then, as he was drying his feet, another picture surfaced from his memory. It wasn't as old a memory as that of Ellisand; Jayne was older in this one by five or six years and he remembered the name that went with this picture immediately: Fat Maude.
Fat Maude was a whore, a stout woman with a curling fall of heavy hair black as The Black, a laugh you could hear three blocks away, and mad, mad skills in the sack. Jayne saw her regular while living on the dockside of Shilling working as a cargo grunt. It was back-busting work that crippled strong men young and paid next to horseshit, and Jayne was already learning how collection work for some of the wharf bosses paid ten times as much. There wasn’t much enjoyment in breaking balls and kneecaps either, but at least they weren’t his balls and kneecaps and his ma sure was sure glad of the extra he was able to send home.
"My, my," Fat Maude had said to Jayne the first time she'd undressed him and looked him over naked, "Ain't you just built like a young bull." Her eyes traveled down him and then she smiled, showing a fetching set of dimples. “It's gonna be good to be Miss Maudy tonight."
It was Fat Maude who let Jayne in on the greatest secret he’d ever been told: That women liked sexin’ as much as men, given the chance, and were just as interested in getting theirs before it was through. The thing is, Maude told him, womenfolk have to pretend it’s all about sweets and daisies, promises and rainbows and stupid music crap, is all--else the ‘verse treats them shameful badly.
Except for whores, Maude clarified. A whore could be just as straight as she cared to about a good--or bad--hump because the ‘verse already treats her shameful badly. It was one reason Jayne spent so much time and cash in their company--a whore’d let a man know plain where he stood, if he had cash money and balls enough to ask.
“But any girl'll tell you, hon, how to get at the truth of her," Maudy had told him that long-ago good sweaty night by a single lamplight turned down low, "You just gotta pay attention, is all, ‘cause she likely won’t use words. Pay attention and she’ll straighten every hair on your fine young self. But get after her all hasty, and I promise you--once she's scared of what you got, there ain't a thing you can do with it that'll make her happy except put it back in your pants."
"Ain't I paying attention?" Jayne had teased her, moving as slow as that hot, sticky night had dictated. He remembered how the whorehouse bedroom’s open windows had let in the sweltering air and the low groans of docking boats coming to ground in the docks across the way.
She’d purred low in her throat; lying on her Jayne had felt the sound vibrate clear through his chest. "You’re sure enough a quick study, yearling." She giggled then, bouncing Jayne on her like a well-padded earthslide, as her wise hands trailed fire across his skin.
And that’s where Jayne’s memory bled into a lot of others that ended the same way, and drifted clean away.
He shook his head and stepped into his clean pants, slung his towel around his neck and walked out of the showercloset barefoot.
Damn, he was hungry.
Once he’d gone to his bunk and finished dressing, Jayne headed to the galley to see if anyone was cooking something he might be able to get in on.
Lucky enough, Kaylee was at work over the burners, and Shy was seated across the table from Book, each of ‘em holding a handful of cards.
“Tall card?” Jayne pulled up a chair next to Shy who shot him a grin before turning back to the fan of cards in her hand.
“Why, yes it is,” the shepherd answered.
“Is there betting?” There was a bowl full of something on the table; Jayne leaned across and grabbed a handful. Whatever else it was, it was crunchy and salty, and that worked for him.
“No,” Book smiled at Shy across the table, “Just a game among friends. Are you in?”
Jayne winked at Shy, chewing. “Long as there’s no betting. ‘Cause I played her once, and she cleaned me out.” He swallowed. “I think she’s one of them sharks.”
Book looked from Jayne to Shy and then at his hand of cards. He frowned and smiled at the same time, and tossed them on the table. “That would explain a lot,” the shepherd muttered dryly to no one in particular and then noted, “I fold.”
Shy shrugged her tattooed shoulders and grinned at him. “Honest, I wasn’t working you, preacher,” She chuckled and threw down her own hand, “Luck’s just treating you like gos se tonight. It happens sometimes.” She slid the cards towards Book. “Come on--deal ‘em. You in, pirate?”
Kaylee didn’t give any sign she’d be done cooking any time soon and there wasn’t much else to do, so Jayne shrugged. “Aw, what the hell. Sure.”
The shepherd paused to look at them both skeptically, but he began to shuffle the cards.
It was a good enough evening; Wash came and joined the game after a few hands, and then Mal and Zoe sat down to shoot the shit while the rest played cards. When Kaylee’s dinner was done, Inara joined them to eat, and then the doc and his bedbug sister, and everyone talked at once.
Jayne liked it every bit as much as he would never admit it.
Finally though, as night wore on, things broke up and folks drifted off to bed or parts unknown until it was just Jayne and Shy left alone at the table together. Shy yawned and stood up. “I’m for bed.”
Jayne was damned tired himself, but he always slept hardest and best after some good trimming. Besides--the dark green dress Inara’d gave her looked right hot on her with all that blood-red hair tumbling down the back of it. “Alone?”
Shy stood and considered him all sassy-like, hands on her hips. “I don’t know, pirate. I hear tell a hard day’s welding takes the starch right out of a man.” Then she grinned and took his hand.
“Aw, shut up,” Jayne grumbled as he led her down the corridor easy enough. “I got starch. I got plenty of starch.”
They went to his bunk because the bed in her quarters was too damned small for both of them to sleep on, let alone rut more than a quick wham-bam in, and the walls were thin--or so the whiny-ass doc had insisted after pounding incessantly on the door most of the one night they’d tried it.
Besides. No way Jayne was going to sleep away from his weapons. A lot could happen in a night out here in The Black.
They were both as tired as in need of each other, so it was fast. Jayne grinned against her skin at how quick she kindled and burned beneath him, just like a well-laid fire, until the sweet moment took them both.
And then they fell asleep.
It all went south the next morning, as they gathered for breakfast.
Without any kind of warning or hint, River Tam stood up suddenly, leaned across the table towards Shy to say matter-of-factly, “’No girl with hair that willful color can grow into a god-fearing woman.’”
Everyone else fell silent, looking from the crazy girl to where Shy sat, stiff, froze in the middle of buttering a piece of bread, her face gone a fast shade of pale behind the faint smile she forced her lips into the shape of. “Go on, now, girl. Eat your breakfast.” Her voice shook a little.
But River leaned closer, her dark eyes fixed on Shy’s green ones, to tell her solemnly, “’It’s hell’s own mark, that hair.’”
“River!” The doc frowned at his sister and shot an apologetic glance in Shy’s direction.
Shy set her bread aside; her hands clenched into fists. “That’s enough.” Beneath the painted pictures, her skin had gone dead colorless but her eyes blazed greenly.
Simon rose to his feet now, but River moved gracefully away from him around the table to lean even closer to Shy. “’Let hell have her, before she taints another righteous man.’”
Before any of the others could move, Shy was on her feet, a blur of fluttering red and moving colors, lunging across the table at the girl and leading with her butter knife; in her unwavering hand it suddenly looked dangerous as any blade Jayne owned. “Shut yourself up, child,” Shy spoke with ominous quiet now, “Or I will see to it.”
Zoe had her gun out almost as fast as Mal had his. When she heard those hammers come back cocked, Shy froze again. After a moment she tossed the knife onto the table and straightened slowly, holding her empty hands where both Mal and Zoe could see them.
In the long shocked quiet, she swept their shocked faces with an unreadable expression, her eyes dark and wide and inscrutable. After a moment and without a word, she turned her back on them all and nearly ran on fast long strides out of the galley, her hair fluttering on the breeze of her passing.
“Well.” Mal watched her go, easing the hammer back on his gun as he looked after her thoughtfully for a long moment. “That was... bewildering. Jayne, do we need to fear her coming back here armed any time soon?”
Jayne shrugged and kept eating his fried protein. “Hell if I know. Wanted to do it myself a time or two once the crazy girl starts talking.”
Mal’s cold gaze settled on him now. “You better see to it she don’t.” When Jayne frowned at him, uncomprehending, the captain raised his eyebrows. “Now would be good, Jayne.”
“Aw, shit,” Jayne muttered; tossing his fork and napkin on the table, he shoved his chair back and stood up. “Gorram moonbrain wrecking another decent meal.”
The doors to Shy’s quarters was closed when he got there; Jayne considered walking in and then reconsidered; she had two guns in there with her. He knocked instead. “Hey, girl. It’s me. Don’t shoot, okay? I’m comin’ in.”
There was no reply one way or the other. Jayne paused with his hand on the door-slide. “Shy?”
“Don’t want to talk, pirate.” Her voice sounded even further away than the heavy door between them accounted for. “Nothing personal, just ain’t in a talking mood.”
Jayne considered that; made sense, the way he saw it. As far as he was concerned, talking started most of the trouble in his world, anyway. “What kind of mood are you in, then?”
And while he didn’t really expect her to come back with, The kind of mood to jump your bones, Jayne Cobb, he supposed anything was possible.
What she said, however, was one single word. “Bad.”
“That’s it?” Jayne snorted. “Hell--I’m in a bad mood a lot. What’s so damn special about that?”
There was no answer from behind the door for so long he wondered if maybe she’d fallen asleep in there, or found a back way out of her quarters or something. Then the door slid open.
Shy motioned him in with one hand; when he went, she slid the door closed again behind them.
Jayne sat down on her bed, marveling all over again at how gorram tiny the passenger quarters were. He thought his bunk was tight. Shy sat down beside him, looking down at her fingers laced together in her lap, and said nothing.
“The captain wants to know if you’re gonna come out shooting.” Jayne leaned back against the wall.
Shy didn’t look up to answer him. “No. I ain’t. But best keep that girl away from me.”
“Hey, preaching to the flock, here.” Jayne agreed, “At least she didn’t take after you with a butcher knife. Laid me open, she did.”
He didn’t say why; he didn’t want to remember why, himself. But knowing why the crazy girl took a knife to him made Jayne wonder a little about what she’d said that had Shy so ready to return the favor. “You seen the scar.”
Shy nodded, her hair sliding over her shoulders, but made no reply at all so Jayne shrugged and went on. “Feds scrambled her like an egg, see, left her crazier than a shit-house rat. She talks out of turn, is all. Most times she don’t even mean anything by it.”
He fell suddenly silent, listening to himself, struck dumb by the notion that he, Ma Cobb’s son Jayne, was actually defending tight-assed Simon Tam’s gorram moon-brained little sis.
“Thought you heard the part about me not wanting to talk, pirate.” Shy raised her head to look him in straight the eye. She wasn’t smiling.
Jayne grinned at her anyway and shrugged. “Ain’t you been payin’ attention to the scuttle around here? I can’t be trusted.”
“You hwundan,” A small smile fought to show itself on Shy’s face. And when he threw his closest arm loosely around her shoulders, she didn’t smack him or anything, so he left it there.
“She’s fragged us all, one time or another, is all I’m saying. It’s just crazy talk, what comes out of her mouth.”
Shy said nothing, but she turned to face him. “I’m talked out, Jayne. What else have you got for me?”
Jayne frowned down at her, trying to make sure she wasn’t kidding, that he wasn’t missing something she’d throw him out on his ass for, but he couldn’t find a thing. “What--you want to arm-wrestle?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Not so much.”
“Just checking,” Jayne shrugged, considering. After a quick silent systems check he figured it wouldn’t take much to give it a good try, anyhow. “Slide on over here, woman. I got an idea.”
Jayne slid the door closed behind him, hoping he wasn’t too late getting down to the damned skiff, and if he was, that Mal would cut him some slack for presumeably trying to keep Shy from tangling it up with crazy River.
Wasn’t like it was a sham; after all, Shy’d said flat out she wasn’t planning to go after the girl. And when Jayne had left her loose-limbed and smiling in her narrow bed, Shy’d been in a pretty damned good mood.
When he passed the shepherd in the narrow hallway, he didn’t think much of it until Book stopped him with a question.
“How is she?”
Jayne considered answering that honestly, but given the preacher’s unsettling preacher vows, decided he likely wouldn’t fully appreciate it anyway. “She ain’t gunning for River, anyway.”
Book smiled. “That’s good to hear.” He looked down the hall towards Shy’s door. “I thought maybe I’d pay her a visit myself. A soul can’t have too many willing ears.”
Personally, Jayne disagreed flat--two willing ears were enough for any soul, to his way of thinking. After all, that’s what folks was born with. But he shrugged; it was a free ‘verse--out here in The Black, anyway. Something occurred to him as he shouldered past the shepherd, though, and he turned back. “You’re going to want to knock before you go in there, preacher.”
Book frowned. “Of course. I wouldn’t just walk into anyone’s...” Then his eyes widened. “Oh.” Then they narrowed and fixed on Jayne. “Oh.” The shepherd shook his head, frowning his preachery disapproval. “Really, Jayne.”
Jayne winked and grinned. “Good luck, Shepherd.” And he walked away, still smiling.
“Shy?” Book knocked softly on the woman’s closed door and spoke as quietly as he could and still hope to be heard. “It’s Shepherd Book.”
There was no sound at all for a long enough time that Book wondered if perhaps Shy was napping. She was still mending, after all, at least theoretically. But then her voice came to him. “What--you came to negotiate yourself some sin after all? ‘Cause I don’t--”
The shepherd smiled and shook his head even though she couldn’t see it. He interrupted her gently. “I’m a man of god, girl.”
“I’ve been under a lot of god’s men, shepherd.” For all she spoke quietly enough, her voice cut suddenly through the space between them like a blade forged of cold fury. “Ain’t anyone in this ‘verse who can hate and screw at the same time like a godly man, let me tell you. And preachers are the worst of ‘em.”
Book marked the sudden hostility, the fear and fury fueling it in her voice, and it confirmed what he’d come to suspect. He closed his eyes. Taking a deep breath, he quieted his mind and changed the subject instead, “River Tam meant nothing by what she said, Shy, for all it came out cruelly. The poor child’s a reader and she just speaks out of hand some times. She can’t help herself.”
“Yeah. Jayne told me.” Her voice was still angry, but the bright edge of rage was missing now. That was a good sign even if this conversation was going no place fast.
The shepherd frowned and straightened his shoulders; he supposed it was as good a time as any before another random confrontation with River goaded Shy into doing something there was no coming back from. Book looked at the door as though he could see Shy standing beyond it and took a leap of faith. “Your father was a preacher, wasn’t he?”
And then there was no sound at all for a long, long time
Had the matter been less crucial, Book might have given up and tried again later. But it was that crucial, and so he waited. And not in vain, because eventually the door slid open to reveal Shy standing in the doorway, her hair disheveled, her startling green eyes wide and dark and bright with unshed tears.
In her hand was a pistol leveled at Book’s chest.
“My step-daddy,” she told him expressionlessly, “And I’ve had all the divine intervention I can stand, so we’re done here, you and I, one way or another.”
“You aren’t going to shoot me, Shy,” Book smiled but he didn’t move, either--he could see in her wide eyes the same terrified woman who’d threatened to disembowel him with a scalpel, the same terrified woman who’d lunged at River Tam with a butter knife in her hand. He wanted to talk with that woman, not provoke her.
Shy considered him a long moment and then smiled, a sad, lopsided grin. “Yeah. You’re probably right, man of god.” Easing the hammer back to safe, she lowered the weapon to her side and wiped at her eyes with the back of her other hand. “But I’m not in a talking mood, either. So please just leave me be.”
Book nodded. “I understand. I really do. But I’d like to help, if I may.”
Good lord, her eyes were green. They gleamed as she considered him unblinking; Book knew the look perfectly--she was weighing the truth in him against her own reluctance and whatever motivated it. “Captain Reynolds’ll just keep sending you folks in here, one by one, ‘til I talk to somebody, won’t he?”
Book fought back a smile and lost. “I’m afraid so. And if you keep sending us away, sooner or later he’ll be standing here himself.”
Shy sighed, a heavy sound. Without a backward look, she turned and went back into her quarters, waving him in after her with the hand not holding the gun. “Best come inside, then.”
After another day of mule-work--one that left them all in a better mood since it seemed they might just be able to fire up the damned thing someday soon and see what she did once they settled on terra again--and a long shower, Jayne went looking for Shy.
She wasn’t in the mess galley, she wasn’t reading in the passenger lounge, and when he asked around, no one had seen her since breakfast except himself and maybe the preacher. But he didn’t see the preacher either, so he couldn’t ask.
Jayne frowned and headed for her bunk. Gorram--had she sat in alone there the whole damn day? A tinge of something unfamiliar chewed at him all the way through the ship; just as he pulled up to a stop in front of her door, his heart beating loud in his chest, Jayne realized it was worry.
He knocked, called, “Hey, woman. It’s me. You in there?”
Her voice came to him softly, “It’s open, pirate. Come on in.”
So he did, and found her sitting on her bed gazing down at one of the pictures on her skin--the one he’d noticed back on Govanne, on her forearm, the grassy valley with the yellow flowers and the trees and the wind. She looked up at the sound of his steps, and smiled so sadly Jayne frowned. “I lied to you,” she said.
“So?” Jayne sat down next to her, looked down at the picture on her skin. “What about?”
“This.” She laid her arm across his thighs so he could see the picture better. “It’s where I lived when I was a kid.”
“Huh.” Jayne ran his fingers across the clear sky, across the blades of grass, the yellow blooms, the treeline, that still looked to him to be moving in a breeze. His sharp eyes again found the tiny house all but hidden behind the hills, the tiny curl of smoke unfurling from its chimney. He shrugged. “No harm in it. Sure is small.”
She grinned again, no little less sad-looking. “It’s how I remember it, last time I saw. I was in a shuttle looking down.” Shy raised her eyes, looked around the room. “That was the last time I was aship before now.”
Jayne thought about that a moment, then sat back and looked at her. “You were stuck on that shit heap Govanne since you were a kid?” And when Shy nodded, he shook his head. “Hell. That’s just... unnatural.”
“Sure was,” she murmured, looking down at the picture on her arm.
She looked so small there, all sudden-like, not saying anything, just tracing that curling strand of smoke with her fingertips. Jayne cleared his throat and set his hand on her leg awkwardly. “But look where you’re at now, living the life.”
That made her look up and grin from behind a strand of hair that fell over an eye. But whatever she might have said was interrupted by a very hefty growl from Jayne’s empty belly.
They both looked down, and Shy chuckled.
“What?” Jayne protested, “I’m hollow as a bitch wolf.” He stood up. “Come on--let’s go see what we can wrassle up in the mess galley.”
But Shy’s smile melted away and she remained seated. “Aw, you go on ahead, pirate. I’m good.” She wouldn’t look at him, either; wouldn’t look at anything but that picture on her forearm.
Gorram it, Jayne was hungry. And Shy was a grown woman, surely able to know when she was in need of eats and not. So why was it so gorram hard to turn and walk out of her bunk all of a sudden?
Whatever the reason, Jayne decided it just plain sucked. He sighed heavily, crossed his arms over his chest and stood looking down at her until she glanced up. Then he asked, “So, you just gonna sit in here till we reach Strand so you don’t run into the moonbrain again? That’s a whole lot of rope to give one little girl, even if she is crazy.”
Shy frowned hard at that, and for a second Jayne thought she might tell him to go hump himself. But then she shrugged. “Just don’t want any trouble, pirate. That’s all.”
Jayne sat down again. “Trouble’s all that girl is, even if it ain’t her own doing. Hiding from her won’t change nothing. You ain’t the first to want to shut her up permanent--not by a long shot. Just can’t do it, is all.”
He waited but Shy didn’t say anything so he stood up again. “C’mon, now. Let’s find some chow. Then maybe we can play some cards or get naked or something.” That made her smile, even if a little sadly.
When he offered her a hand up, she took it and stood; then her smile turned downright saucy. “Maybe we could play cards naked.”
Jayne considered that as they moved to, and through, the door. He chuckled, “Damn straight. I’ll show you why they really call it ‘tall card’.”
No one bothered them; it was late enough by then that the only other person in the galley was the shepherd, reading his book with a cup of hot something steaming beside him. He looked up at them both and smiled, but said nothing. Not until Shy greeted him first, saying, “’Evening, man of god.”
Then Book smiled wider at her, “Good evening, Shy, Jayne.” The way Shy smiled a little back at him made Jayne wonder in passing if maybe the preacher got her to talk after all with that extra set of ears. But she didn’t say anything so he forgot about it.
They ate some of what Jayne found in a covered kettle on the quiet burners--leftover chili Wash had made, the preacher said, adding “But I can’t recommend it with a clear conscience.” The strength of the peppers in it made Jayne’s eyes water; it was damned tasty by his accounting, anyway.
Then they made some of that small talk that Jayne figured was a complete waste of time and air, where no one really says anything they couldn’t have just stayed quiet about for all the difference saying it made. But he suffered through it as long as he could because Shy seemed more at ease than he’d seen her since breakfast, and for some gorram dumb-ass reason that mattered to him all of a sudden.
And just when he couldn’t stand it any more, Shy shoved her chair back from the table and looked at Jayne. “Ready for bed, pirate?”
“Shit. I was born ready.” Jayne winked at her and turned to grin at the shepherd, who just shook his head and dropped his eyes back to his book.
When they were back in Jayne’s bunk, the whole gorram day fell away from them like their clothing, shed, discarded and forgotten, just like that. Then they were in his bed and all over each other, sweat-slick and salty, tangled up the way lives get, breathing harsh and fast, making sounds that had no words in them, visiting and revisiting that sweet agony that makes a body know he ain’t dead and damned sure glad of it.
Finally they’d had so much of each other they fell asleep--Shy fitted warm and quiet against him and Jayne snoring evenly in her ear. And neither of them dreamed, and the pictures on Shy’s skin were only tattooes, and the names in Jayne’s head sank back into everything else he’d all but forgotten.
And who they were didn’t matter a gorram bit.
For a while, anyway.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007 8:26 PM
Thursday, May 31, 2007 5:09 PM
Thursday, September 27, 2007 4:46 PM
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