"Is she in your way, Kaylee? Is she botherin' you? I don't want you distracted when our lives are on the line here, and if she's distractin' you, I'd be more'n happy to get her out of the way, 'cause—"
"Jayne," Kaylee interrupted, not moving her eyes from the engine in front of her, one hand busily working a wrench.
"Yeah?" Jayne said. His hands were hovering near his hip holsters, as though he suspected something would jump out and shoot at them. It was a nervous habit, and Kaylee knew it.
"Shut up," Kaylee said kindly.
With a huff, Jayne turned around and started pacing. He glanced out the engine room doors and then turned back toward the girls.
"C'mon, Kaylee, can't I just lock you two in here for safekeepin' and go out and help 'em? Vera's itching for some action."
"You heard the Cap'n, Jayne, he wanted you to stay here. Anyway, we need your…strong, manly protection." River's mouth twitched into a half smile at this little jab, but Jayne seemed to think Kaylee was being serious, and it did little to calm him.
"They need my strong, manly help out there! With Zoe out, Mal's the only good fighter we got!"
"The Cap'n said for you to stay here, and I don't want to get shot again just because you decided you needed to perform some thrilling heroics," Kaylee said calmly, still not looking up from her work. "Now you just stay here with us while I get Serenity up-and-running so we can get off this rock."
Jayne snorted, but the memory of Kaylee getting shot when that Alliance agent got twitchy made him stay. He'd never felt so sick to his stomach as he did waiting outside the infirmary for news of her.
"Work fast," Jayne said.
"You know—" River began quietly, and Jayne spun around to glare at her, teeth clenched.
"If you're about to start spoutin' more of your nonsense, you best reconsider, because I am most definitely not in the mood for it."
"—pacing won't do you any good," River finished as though he hadn't even interrupted her.
"According to you, little miss genius, nothing will do me any good. Better pacing than just sittin' around."
"We could play a game," River suggested, and slid off of the hammock. She held out her hands, palms down. "Put your hands there—" she reached down to pull his hands into position, palm up, under hers, and Jayne pulled away with a little too much force. She stumbled and regained her balance, laughing as though he were playing.
Jayne glared. "Stop that. I don't know what you're tryin' to pull, but I ain't forgettin' you slashing my chest open with a kitchen knife." River took a step back and looked almost repentant.
"Never?" River prodded him thoughtfully. "You'll never forgive it?"
"I don't forgive," Jayne said gruffly, but she was making him uncomfortable with her stare and he looked away. He made as if to start pacing again and felt a small hand work its way into his.
"Don't," River said, and he turned and met her eyes unwillingly. "You're gonna make me nervous," she said with that bright, off-putting grin. Her hand still locked in his, she took a step closer to him.
Jayne jerked his hand from her grip, a surprisingly difficult task for her being such a slip of a girl, and before he knew it his hand was on his knife hilt and he'd taken a few involuntary steps back, legs spread in the defensive position. River gave a carefree laugh that rang like bells on the metal walls of the engine room.
It was, Jayne had to agree with the bounty hunter of a few months before, 'unsettling.'
"Listen," he said, not quite sure what he was going to say to her, but only sure that he needed to smash that playful mood before she made him crazy. Listen.
"Listen," River said silently, suddenly still, eyes wide. Kaylee stopped turning her wrench and listened obediently. Jayne's hand went to the hilt of his gun. A loud crash echoed down the hallway, and Kaylee flinched. River didn't move.
"What the hell-" Jayne began, but River held up one hand, imperious, and he fell grudgingly silent.
"Who's coming?" Kaylee asked.
"Is it Reavers?" Jayne said, and he pulled his gun out of its holster. "If it's Reavers…gorramit, if it's Reavers—"
"Not Reavers," River said impatiently, waving a hand at him to shut him up. "The Captain." Indeed, the Captain and Simon came barreling down the corridor, shouting at each other.
"I want her with me!" Simon said firmly, but Mal was disagreeing even as he walked.
"The infirmary isn't safe, Simon, I'm only letting you stay there because Zoe can't be moved. Trust me—" Mal said, and Simon interrupted, throwing his hands in the air.
"Trust you?! Why the hell should I trust you? You got us into this whole mess!"
"Trust me," Mal repeated in a low voice, "She will be safer with Jayne in the engine room."
"Wo cao ni ba bei zi zu zong, Cap'n, you ain't gonna take me out there?" Jayne said.
"Jayne, I need you to take care of the girl. Now, I'm gonna lock you two in…"
"Lock us in?! Captain, come on! If you're gonna lock us in, lock her in by herself! Why do I need to be here?"
"So she doesn't get herself into trouble, Jayne. This is the gorramn heart of my ship and I don't want her messin' with it." Mal was growing impatient. "Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a request, Jayne," he warned.
"If that's all you need, lock Kaylee in here with the crazy girl!"
"I need Kaylee to come with me. We need the mule to run for our genius plan, and it's havin' trouble. If we get stranded out there on the mule, everyone's dead. Jayne, I don't have time for this argument."
Mal grabbed Kaylee's arm and pulled her with him out the door of the engine room. Simon had been saying something to River. Mal caught his eye and raised his eyebrows—'let's go'—and Simon ended his sentence with '...and if he touches you, go ahead and hurt him' and then followed Mal out the door.
"Stay here," Mal said darkly, and Jayne just stared helplessly as Mal shut the door and he and heard the sound of the locks engaging.
Jayne looked at River. River looked at Jayne.
"Each hand contains twenty six bones."
"Listen," Jayne repeated unsteadily, "How about you just sit there on that hammock and try and use your reader powers to figure out what this yu bun duh plan is so you can tell me how long it's gonna take."
River stuck out her tongue and crossed her arms. Never had Jayne been more aware that he was dealing with a teenager. He took a calming breath. It didn't work.
"Well if you're not going to do anything useful," he said through gritted teeth, "Just sit down and be quiet and leave me to my pacin'."
"No," River said easily in reply, arms still folded over her chest. Jayne turned back to stare at her, incredulous.
"What did you say?"
River quirked an eyebrow. Jayne glared back, trying to appear angrier than he really felt. Mostly he just felt confused, and irritated. He wasn't used to people ignoring his threats, especially not little girls.
"Then what," Jayne said, "do you plan on doing?"
"What do you like to do in your spare time?" River asked, ignoring his question. "What are your hobbies?" When Jayne didn't reply, she spoke for him. "Guns. Cleaning guns. Owning guns. Buying guns. Using guns. Money. Earning money. Taking money. Spending money. Women. F—"
"Yeah, yeah," Jayne interrupted, alarmed. "I get it, yeah, okay."
"You have guns," River said. "You could clean them, but you don't have your kit. Plus, you wouldn't want to be caught off guard. You could use them, but you'd either have to shoot me or yourself. You'd never shoot yourself, and I'd prefer if you didn't shoot me."
"Can't shoot you," Jayne allowed grudgingly, "Captain'd kill me."
"Can't earn money, can't take money, can't spend money. Trapped," River went on methodically.
"Women—" River trailed off, and then glanced around the engine room as though checking to see if there were any loose women tucked onto nearby shelves. "No women. Only girl. One girl."
Jayne watched her uncomfortably. What was she saying?
"Jayne won't lie with girls," River said matter-of-factly. "Jayne is a decent man."
"Am not," Jayne said immediately, defensive. He wasn't going to stand by while somebody called him decent.
"Are too," River retorted immediately, taking a step towards him.
"Prove it," River said quickly, and Jayne opened his mouth to respond and then froze, unsure.
"What are you tryin' to say? You tryin' to seduce me, girl?"
River laughed again, that childlike laugh.
"Only talking," River said, "Passing time."
Jayne shook his head, thoroughly confused. "Go sit in yer hammock," he said, and, to his great surprise, she did. Wordlessly, she perched herself again on the edge and watched him. Eerie as hell, Jayne thought, and forced himself to peer out the window into the hallway again. Still empty. It was going to be a long day.