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WARNING: If you haven't read the warning on the index page, go back and read it. If you don't, and you don't like what you find here, don't come crying to me.
Title: A Good Idea

Author: Eleanor K.

Fandom: Firefly

Pairing: Mal/Jayne

Rating: NC-17

Spoilers: mild for Out of Gas

Email: emungere@gmail.com

Disclaimer: All hail Joss.

Notes: Cab beta'd. She is awsome.

..___..


"Do you really think this is a good idea, sir?"

Mal doesn't, as it happens. He doesn't know quite how he went from giving Jayne Cobb a ten percent cut to giving him a room of his own on Serenity, but he's not at all sure it's a good idea.

The plan was to get their money, give Jayne his cut and indicate firmly that Serenity didn't really need a mercenary gun-nut after all, thanks but no thanks.

It has been a week now, and Mal hasn't done any indicating.

"He could be useful," Mal says weakly.

"How?"

He could move large boxes, Mal thinks. I'm sure he's top notch at shooting people, and if we ever needed any torture done he'd be the man for the job. He'd probably enjoy it.

Zoe taps her fingers on her arm. Mal fishes for something to say.

"He...ah..."

Zoe takes pity on him. "There's no reason we have to keep him, sir."

It is an unfortunate choice of words. Mal has had very definite thoughts about keeping Jayne, and not in the way Zoe means. Whatever Jayne's flaws, and Mal has to admit that they do keep mounting up, he's just really damn hot, to put it crudely. Actually, that wouldn't be crudely. Crudely would be saying what he wants to do to Jayne on the bridge, bent over the consol.

But he's not going to say that. He's not even going to think about it.

"He'll be good to have around," Mal says vaguely, cursing himself. "There's been a few times we could've used backup."

"Backup we could trust, sir."

"But..." This is starting to remind Mal an awful lot of this time when he was a kid, trying to convince his mom to let him keep the puppy that followed him home. Disregarding the impure thoughts, of course. And the worst of it is that he's never going to get what he wants from Jayne, so why torture himself like this?

Zoe's giving him The Look. It means, roughly translated, I think you've got your head up your ass, sir, but I won't come out and say that, partly because it's not my place, but mostly because it's more fun to watch you squirm.

That woman can pack a lot into a look. Unfortunately it's not going to work this time.

"Look," he says, and waits a second to see what else he's going to say. "Look, if you'd just met me, I wouldn't strike you as an immediately scary guy, would I?"

Zoe just raises her eyebrows.

"Okay, let's say that if I'd just met me, I wouldn't strike me as being all that scary."

"Whatever you say, sir."

"But Jayne now, we can both agree that people could find him a mite intimidating, right?"

"People other than us, of course."

"Of course." He is just a bit offended by the implication that he's afraid to fire Jayne, but he can feel he's winning her over so he'll let it go. "My point is, people will be less likely to mess with us if he's along."

"And it has nothing to do with him doing pull-ups in the cargo bay every morning without his shirt on?"

Busted. Not that he'll admit it. Ever.

"I'm deeply offended that you would entertain that preposterous notion for a second. Sensible woman like yourself. Ought to know me better."

"Sorry I brought it up, sir."

"Apology accepted."

And then it hits him that Jayne is really staying, with his shirtless pull-ups every morning, and his rough voice, and his mouth, and his hands, and oh god his ass... And this is good in the eye candy department, but not so good in the sexual frustration department. Hell.

"If he's staying, you'd better talk to him, sir."

This statement, hard on the heels of his own thoughts, is a bit disorienting.

"About what?" He hopes he's not already supposed to know.

"He's been looking at Kaylee."

"Kaylee's a big girl, Zoe. I'm not going to tell her who she can...have looking at her."

"She's very definitely not interested in Jayne looking at her."

"And she can't say that herself?"

"I think he's not used to taking no for an answer, and we don't want any misunderstandings, so it might be a good idea if you had a talk with him. Just in case. Sir."

"Right. I'll do that."

***

Mal thinks he must have some kind of masochistic streak. It's the only explanation for why he chooses to have his talk with Jayne in the cargo bay. In the morning. With that shirtless thing going on.

Jayne calls to him as he enters. "Hey, Captain. You need something?"

"Want a word with you, but it can wait a minute. Go ahead and finish up there."

Jayne nods acknowledgment and keeps going.

From where he's standing, Mal has a very nice view of rippling back muscles. And various other things. The definition in Jayne's arms when he's pulling himself up could be used in an anatomy textbook. Only everything's covered in a light sheen of sweat that makes his skin sort of glow, and--

Mal turns around to watch the wall while he waits for Jayne to finish.

Jayne finishes and comes over to him, wiping his face on a towel. "What's up?"

Mal has tried to think of some tactful way to bring this up, but has come to the conclusion that tact is not what's called for here.

"Just wanted to let you know that if you had any thought of going after Kaylee, you'd best forget it."

"No worries there, Captain. She ain't really my type."

"And just so we're clear, if you ever hurt any of my crew I'll probably kill you."

"Yeah. I figured."

"Shiny." Mal is pleased. This went better than he'd hoped. He heads for the stairs.

"Hey, Captain?"

He turns back. "Yeah?"

"Is it just your mechanic you want me to stay away from, or is the rest of the crew off limits, too?"

"Well...you can try hitting on Zoe, long as you don't mind her hitting back."

"Wasn't exactly thinking of Zoe. Or Wash."

Mal notes that Jayne is suddenly standing awfully close. He also notes that he has run out of crew. He clears his throat.

"Who...ah... Who were you thinking of, then? Exactly?"

Jayne grins. "Was sort of thinking of you, Captain."

"Oh." Mal knows he's staring. He'd like to stop, but he can't seem to manage it. Have some dignity, he tells himself. It doesn't help.

"So?"

Mal shakes himself out of it. He shrugs. "Nothing to stop you from trying."

He turns away from Jayne's still-grinning face and exits the cargo bay. Fast.

Back in his own room he lets himself fall into his chair with a whoosh of expelled breath. He tips his head back, stares at the ceiling, and contemplates the difference between fantasy and reality.

He would have preferred to stick with fantasy, despite the frustration. If it had occurred to him for a second that Jayne might return his interest... This is going to get complicated.

***

Jayne sits next to him at supper that night. That's not unusual by itself. It's not the first time he's had Jayne a foot away, their elbows colliding on the table, hands touching as they reach for the salt at the same time.

It is the first time he's reached for a roll and had Jayne's hand close over his and hold for a second as Jayne looks at him with knowing, gloating eyes.

Nothing to stop you from trying. Could he have said anything stupider?

Jayne's leg brushes against his under the table, and he pulls away. It was casual enough that it might have by accident. He finds out it wasn't when a foot hooks around his ankle. The leverage lets Jayne pull his leg closer until it's pressed against Jayne's from thigh to calf.

Mal goes on eating, ignoring as best he can the heat, the feel of hard muscle, the amount of enjoyment Jayne is obviously getting from his discomfiture. If it doesn't go any further, he can handle it.

It doesn't go any further. Not that night.

***

Supper the next night is another story.

When Wash asks him to pass the rolls, Mal is presented with a dilemma. To pass the rolls, he'll have to use the hand that's currently trying to keep Jayne from molesting him under the supper table.

If he puts down his chopsticks to use the other hand, it's going to make it pretty obvious that there's some reason he's got his other hand in his lap. There is a reason, a very good reason. If Jayne gets his way, Mal's going to come in his pants before this meal is over.

He could tell Jayne to stop. He *should* tell Jayne to stop.

He gives up custody of Jayne's hand and passes the rolls, trying not to bite his lip as fingers brush over his crotch.

He *should* tell Jayne to stop. He just doesn't want to. Never mind that he's going to be sitting at this table waiting for his erection to die down for a good long while after supper is over. He can handle that.

He can handle these semi-public games, the footsie under the table, the teasing and touching. It's fine. It's safe. With Zoe and Wash and Kaylee in the room, nothing's going to happen.

What's worrying him is that Jayne's going to try something else, somewhere more private, and Mal really will have to say no to that. He shouldn't be letting it go this far, but--

He bites down on the inside of his cheek as a large hand cups the bulge in his pants, rubbing lightly.

But it feels so good. And he wants it so badly. He's making promises with his body that he shouldn't be making. It's not fair to Jayne.

Tomorrow, he tells himself. Tomorrow he'll sort things out.

***

Mal sits alone in the kitchen. It is early morning by the ship's clock, and somewhere below him, shirtless pull-ups are occurring. He stares into his coffee.

He is forming certain suspicions. Jayne's leers have been coming fast and thick, and Mal is dead certain he would have noticed if Jayne was directing those looks at anyone else--Kaylee, for example. Jayne wasn't, and therefore Zoe didn't see him doing it, which makes Mal wonder why she said she did.

"Morning, sir." The object of his thoughts wanders in to pour herself coffee.

Her hair is flat on one side and extra-frizzy on the other, her usual neat ringlets almost completely gone. Where Kaylee has been known to run around the ship in her nightgown, it is nearly unheard of for Zoe to show herself above decks in anything less than full dress, usually including sidearm, though she has become more relaxed about that recently. At the moment, however, she is wearing a green robe with, if Mal is not mistaken, a dinosaur on the back.

"Morning. You look like you had fun last night. You know, captains are traditionally empowered to perform weddings."

"Is that so, sir?"

"I thought you didn't like him."

"I didn't."

"And here you are living in sin." He shakes his head in mock disappointment, trying not to smile.

She sets her coffee down on the table and sits across from him. "You could shut up now, sir."

"I'll do that."

Coffee and silence.

"Say, Zoe..."

She makes an inquiring noise as she sips her coffee.

"Just thought I'd mention--I don't take kindly to people lying to me. Especially not my second-in-command."

And because this is Zoe, she knows immediately what he's talking about. "I didn't lie, Captain. I never said I wanted you to talk to him *because* he was looking at Kaylee."

"You did say he was looking at her."

"He isn't closing his eyes when she walks into the room."

"Uh-huh. And would you like to have a talk with him about the way he's been looking at me?"

"Thought you'd be all in favor of him looking at you that way, Captain." Her smirk is hidden behind her mug, but Mal can hear it nonetheless.

Mal sighs. "It's a little more complicated than that. And I don't appreciate being set up."

"Just trying to help out. And really, I think you'd have to look a long time to find anyone less complicated than Jayne."

"He's part of my crew now. It's different."

"Why?"

"What?"

"Why's it different?"

"It just is. I'm responsible for him."

Zoe is silent for a moment. "This isn't the war."

"I did notice."

"What I'm saying--"

"I know what you're saying. I just ain't convinced you're right."

She gets up and pours herself more coffee, fills a second cup for the owner of the dinosaur robe.

"Just think about it, sir."

Alone again, he does think about it. This isn't the war. It might be easier if it was. Everything was impermanent in the war, and one night stands were all anyone expected. If he is honest with himself, he isn't likely to want more than that with Jayne. It's just physical attraction, and he isn't going to upset the status quo for that. There is always the chance, however faint, that Jayne might want more than one night, and that could cause problems.

He should have said no in the first place. He should have said no two days ago at supper. Should have said no last night when he was getting groped.

They'll make landfall in Port Tyrene the day after tomorrow. Maybe Jayne will find someone else to leer at.

There is a certain twinge attached to that thought, but Mal refuses to acknowledge it.

***

Port Tyrene grew up around the space port and has retained that transient character. The city's small permanent population lives, for the most part, in residential hotels, ready to pull up stakes at a moment's notice. There are more bordellos than churches here, and more bars than bordellos.

Zoe and Mal pause outside one of those bars, eyeing the swinging doors with a shared sense of unease.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, sir?"

"Who else are we gonna trust with something this hot? Tatsu won't turn us in, at least."

"The Hongs could move it. They ain't afraid of the Alliance."

"They could also move us, right into an early grave. The Hongs aren't looking too kindly on Tatsu's old business associates right now."

"Which is why I was thinking we should stay out of the middle of this mess entirely."

He kicks at the dusty ground. She's right, of course, but it's too late for that.

"I shouldn't have taken the job without a fence in mind. Is that what you want to hear?"

"I was sort of hoping to hear you came up with a brilliant plan that meant we could get off this dust ball before anyone realizes we landed." She shrugs. "Let's just say I'll be glad when this is over."

"You and me both. So let's get going. If everything goes smooth, we'll be offworld by supper time."

Mal pushes away from the wall and walks through the swinging doors. The gloom inside is thick, part poor lighting and part smoke. He moves toward the back of the room without waiting for his eyes to adjust. Everyone inside can see just fine. They can get out of his way.

He pulls aside a stained floral curtain and stops short just inside the back room as a shotgun barrel comes up level with his nose.

"I see they've improved security since the last time we were here." He gestures behind him to tell Zoe to put her gun away. "Tatsu? Is this really necessary? We did make an appointment."

A slim woman with cropped, graying hair comes out from behind a screen.

"It's all right, Jimmy. Put it away."

Jimmy lets the barrel sag down again, but Mal can't help but notice it's now pointed at his balls.

Tatsu puts a hand on Jimmy's shoulder and nudges him toward the door. "Take a hike, boy. Sit in the bar and try not to scare the customers. And remember you're paying for your own drinks," she calls after him. She turns to Mal. "Sorry about that. I've had a few problems lately. People trying to kill me kind of problems."

"It happens. Glad to see you still trust us."

"Not so much that I trust you as that I don't trust Jimmy. I got the impression that you're looking to keep our business between us. Jimmy's loyal enough, but he's got a loose mouth."

"Thanks for the consideration."

She shrugs. "I hope it's worth it. I almost didn't take your call. Been a mite busy recently."

"So I hear. We won't take up much of your time."

Tatsu turns away from them and walks around behind a massive desk, carved and polished, but made of synthetic wood. The look of luxury, but not quite the real thing.

"Drink?"

He accepts, and they both sit. This is the way Tatsu does business, with all the niceties observed. It's no use to try and rush her.

"Hear you got yourself some new muscle. Should I be flattered you trust me enough not to bring it, or insulted 'cause you didn't think you'd need it?"

"Nothing to do with you. He was otherwise engaged."

Jayne is, in fact, taking Kaylee shopping. Mal had doubts about that, but Kaylee insisted she needed someone to help carry stuff, and he wasn't too happy about the idea of her wandering around this city on her own anyway.

"He?" Tatsu sets their drinks in front of them. "From what I've heard about Jayne Cobb, 'it' was the right word."

"Haven't had any problems with him. Don't expect to."

"He's scum," she said calmly. "Which you know, seeing as he shot his former employer right in front of you. How do you trust a man like that? He ain't no good for you, Mal."

"He's good enough."

Mal hopes this isn't going to be a problem. Tatsu has fairly strong opinions about the people she deals with. If she won't do business with him because of Jayne, he may have to chance the Hongs.

"Guess you'll find out, one way or the other." She raises her glass. "To good business."

He relaxes and raises his in turn. Zoe's drink sits untouched on the table. She doesn't drink when they're doing business, not even a sip, but Tatsu never seems to take offense.

"To good business," he says. He has his own definition of those two words, and so does Tatsu, but their definitions overlap in enough places that they've never had any trouble dealing with each other.

She takes a sip and sets her glass down. "So what kind of business are we doing? You were pretty non-specific when we talked."

Mal pulls a photo out of his pocket and hands it over.

Tatsu looks at it, then looks at him. "You're serious?"

"Yup."

She hands the photo back. "I heard about the theft. Sort of thought that was a bit beyond your crew."

Mal smiles briefly. "Somebody made us an offer we couldn't refuse. Are you interested?"

"Yeah, I'm interested. What are you asking?"

They settle down to negotiation, and Mal feels Zoe, standing beside him, relax ever so slightly.

As he listens to Tatsu with half his mind, what she said about Jayne keeps coming back to him. He'd like to think he has valid reasons for keeping Jayne on board. Reasons beyond his own libido. He's fairly sure he does, and hell, Jayne's out being useful right now, isn't he? If not for Jayne, Kaylee would be wandering around Port Tyrene all alone, and Mal doesn't like that idea much at all.

Anyway, Jayne's crew now. Mal's not about to ditch one of his crew over something like this. It is not Jayne's fault that Mal can't stop picturing him naked.

He directs his mind back to the meeting. Tatsu taught Mal much of what he knows about the shadier side of business, mostly by screwing him over so he'd know what to look out for next time.

In the end, the deal seems good to him, although he's thought that about his deals with Tatsu before. He sends Zoe after the merchandise, and Tatsu disappears briefly to get the money.

She returns and slaps the money on the table between them, leaning toward him.

"I want you to think real carefully about keeping Jayne Cobb, Mal. Think long and hard on it."

"Tatsu--"

"The man shot his boss right in front of you."

"You said  hat already. And I'm paying him better."

"You trust him." She shakes her head at him, gives him a bit of a sneer. "You trust too damn easy, boy."

"I'm a suspicious bastard. Ask anyone."

"He'll be nothing but trouble to you."

This is the side of Tatsu of which he is least fond. She seems to feel that since she's got ten years on him in both age and criminal experience, she's got the right to dole out advice while he laps it up like a puppy dog. Or maybe it's nothing to do with age and experience; maybe she's just too used to being obeyed, which would explain her problems with the Hongs.

He decides to change the subject.

"I hear you're having some trouble of your own."

She looks at him with narrowed eyes. "Wouldn't be trying to pump me for information, would you, Mal? Wouldn't be doing a little side business for those Hong humps?"

"I take it back. You are the queen of suspicious bastards. I can't compete."

She laughs. It's sharp and sudden, and gone in an instant. "All right. Guess I know better. You don't play those games." She settles herself in her chair again. "I'll tell you this much. You'd better be offworld by sunset if you want to avoid the fireworks."

"You're moving against them?" He didn't mean to ask, but the surprise jolted the question out of him.

"I am."

"You don't have enough people for that kind of operation." It'll be suicide. He can't imagine what she's thinking.

"I brought in some out of town help. Real nasty sons of bitches. A lot like your Mr. Cobb." She smiles briefly. "Well, maybe not quite that bad."

He's starting to wish he'd never come to her with this, let alone started this conversation, so it's a relief when Zoe shows up with their cargo. She sets the small black box on the desk.

Tatsu pulls it toward her and flips the lid open. "Well, well. My compliments to your crew." She picks up a handful of diamonds previously bound for the Alliance Depository on Osiris and peers at each through a jeweler's loupe. "Looks like the real deal."

She pushes the bag of platinum coins across the table, and Mal scoops it up. "Nice doing business with you, Tatsu, as always."

She nods. "Hope to see you again when things are a mite more settled around these parts."

She waits until they are in the doorway to add, "Remember, Mal. Sunset."

"I ain't likely to forget."

Outside the bar he hands over almost all the money to Zoe and sends her back to the ship. He has a few things to take care of, and he wants that money safe. He's still impressed by the weight of it, doesn't think he's ever seen that much cash in one place before, let alone in his hands.

***

"They're not back yet."

"What do you mean they're not back yet?"

Wash shrugs. "I mean they're not back yet. You know how Kaylee is. When you actually give her the chance to buy stuff for Serenity, it's always, 'Come on, just five more minutes.' Zoe went to look for them."

"How long ago?"

"Five, ten minutes maybe."

"Call her."

A comm call to Zoe reveals no new information. Jayne and Kaylee are overdue by half an hour, and it's getting on toward sunset.

Mal curses inwardly. With only one comm unit working, he'd thought it would be more important to have it with them in case the deal went south. He should have thought...

"Sir? What do you want me to do?" Zoe's voice over the comm link is staticy and distant. Mal wonders how long it will be until this unit breaks, too.

"Get back to the ship. Fast as you can."

Zoe acknowledges and signs off.

Wash takes the handset back and hangs it up. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Don't worry about it. I'll wait for Zoe outside."

"Mal! Will you just tell me? It's obvious something's not right." Wash is on his feet now, shifting like he's thinking of blocking the doorway.

"Wash, sit down and stay by the comm. I'm in no mood for argument."

Wash doesn't like it; that's easy to see. His face is getting that stony, stubborn look that Mal hates. Not that he isn't happy for Wash and Zoe, but Wash was a lot easier to deal with when all he cared about was flying Serenity and playing with his dinosaurs.

"Mal, if you're putting her in danger, I at least have a right to know what kind of--"

"I said I'm in no mood to argue and I meant it. You heard me order Zoe back to the ship. You can interrogate her when she gets here. I got things to do."

He steps around Wash and takes his irritation out on the stairs, pounding down to the cargo bay and out of the ship. Zoe is approaching already, and he goes to meet her.

"Any sign of them?"

"No, sir."

"Right. Stay with the ship and try and calm our pilot down. Oh, and give me the comm."

Zoe hands it over with no more than a concerned look, and even that would be undetectable to anyone who didn't know her.

"Good luck, sir."

***

One hour later.

Mal is walking faster and faster, slamming down on the desperation growing in his chest. He knows the odds are that he'll get a call any minute from Wash, saying that Jayne and Kaylee are back at the boat, safe and sound, but he can't shake the feeling that something's happened, something's wrong...

The marketplace is a maze of semi-permanent shops and stalls that will disappear at the end of the day. The press of people around him makes it nearly impossible to see more than a few feet.

Then he hears it.

"Step on up, ladies and gentlemen, we got Berettas, we got Callahans, we got all major makes, all levels of firepower! A little pistol for the missus, a Callahan full bore autolock for the connoisseur, we even got genuine antiques from Earth-That-Was! Anything you want..."

Mal turns toward the barker with a smile growing on his face.

"Hey there, friend, what can I do you for?" The man is stout, with a red face and thinning red hair. He flourishes part of his inventory at Mal. "You look like a semi-auto man to me--"

"I'm looking for someone."

The man's good cheer falls from his face and lands at Mal's feet with a nasty splat. "If you're not buying, you're blocking people who might. Get lost."

"A man and a woman. Great big guy, taller than me, with a little tiny lady--brunette, perky as hell."

The man's face softens. "Oh, yeah. I saw her." Suspicion. "What do you want her for?"

You can always depend on Kaylee to make a good impression.

"It's the guy I want. He owes me some money. I've got no quarrel with the young lady."

"He ain't gonna have much left to pay you with, after what he bought off me." The man shrugs. "She was talking like this was their last stop, so I guess they headed home. Hey, are they, you know, together?"

"Engaged, so I hear," he lies vaguely. "Thanks for the help."

He cuts a path through the crowd, trying to estimate the shortest way back to Serenity from here. Of course, Kaylee might not have taken the shortest path. He grabs someone from the crowd. "Hey, what's the nearest mechanic's stall to the spaceport?"

The man gestures, and Mal turns in that direction. If he could run, he would, but he is hemmed in on every side. He hears a woman's voice yelling something not far ahead. There is a crowd gathering. With a lurch of fear he begins to shove people aside, tearing through the crowd.

When he reaches the center of the growing circle of onlookers he sees two women screaming at each other. One of them is waving a cucumber. Neither of them is Kaylee.

"Captain?"

He looks down and closes his eyes briefly. Lets out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding. "You're late, girl. Where have you been? And where's Jayne?"

She bites her lip. "He's...gone."

"What do you mean gone? I told him to stay with you. If he--"

"No, he's *gone*. *Gone* gone. They took him."

And then Mal sees the bruise on her forehead, sees that she is near tears. He takes a deep breath.

"All right, little Kaylee. Let's get you back to the boat, and you tell me everything that happened. Start at the beginning."

***

Mal and Zoe walk side by side in grim silence. The failing light is thinning the crowds. There are a few people still about, but they hurry to get out their way.

Then there is someone who doesn't. Mal stops just short of running into her.

"Tatsu."

"Mal. Thought I told you to get off this planet." She looks at the sky. "Does that look like a sunset to you? Sure as hell looks like one to me."

"Jayne's missing. Wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Does it really matter? He's been with you less than a month."

Mal just looks at her, and finally she sighs.

"Fine. I knew you'd be like that. Guess he's not that good after all if he let himself get caught."

"They took him down with a tranq dart. Nobody's good enough to see that coming."

"You can quit defending him, you know. You've got your opinion of him, and I've got mine, and neither's likely to change. But if it gets you out of here sooner--you know where the Hong family's headquarters is?"

"Yeah. What makes you so sure it was them? I'm sure Jayne's got plenty of enemies."

"Hah. I'm sure, too, but this wasn't them. It's the Hongs, trust me."

"Wasn't it you telling me earlier today that I trust people too easy?"

"Do you want to find him or not? Sublevel two. I don't know what you'll find in the way of resistance. Things are kinda unsettled tonight."

She starts to turn away, but Mal grabs her wrist. She tries to yank it away from him, but he increases the pressure until she turns back to him.

"Get your hands off me, Reynolds. I don't take this kind of shit from anyone. I sure as hell ain't taking it from you."

"I want the full story, Tatsu."

"Guan ni ziji de shi."

"This is my business now. What affects my crew is my business. You're sure it's the Hongs. That ain't just a guess. I want to know how you know."

They look at each other for a long moment, and Mal can feel her pulse pounding under his fingers.

She relaxes in his grip and looks away.

"Fine. Remember that out-of-town help I was telling you about?"

"What about them?"

"A few of them have gone missing. The Hongs know I'm up to something, they just don't know what, or when it's going down, so they've been trying to get it out of my boys. Word on the street is, they grabbed your Mr. Cobb thinking he was mine."

"Zhen daomei. And you couldn't have mentioned this a bit earlier?"

"How was I supposed to know they'd be that dumb?"

Mal takes a deep breath. Done is done. Now he needs to concentrate on getting Jayne out before this city turns into a war zone.

"Sublevel two, you said?"

***

The display above the elevator doors registers as they pass the basement, SL-1, SL-2.

The doors open. In front of Mal and Zoe stands a group of surprised-looking men who try and fail to get their weapons raised in time. Mal drags one of the bodies halfway into the elevator to keep the doors from closing.

This was the first serious resistance they encountered. Whatever Tatsu's plan is, it's making enough trouble for the Hongs that their people are out on the streets tonight.

The hall is white and has a hospital feel to it. Every door has a small window set in it. They peer through each one, but see nothing. Three more doors until the end of the hall.

Then what? If Jayne isn't on this floor... If Jayne isn't on this floor, he tells himself firmly, then they'll take the elevator to the top and work their way down.

And if he isn't in this building?

That's a problem for later, but the explosions he hears from the streets above are making it hard to concentrate. The glances that Zoe keeps giving him when she thinks he isn't paying attention don't help either.

"You know I'm not gonna leave him behind."

"Wouldn't want you to, sir."

"So what's with the looks?"

"It can't be pride in my glorious leader?"

"Cai bu shi."

"Guess I'm just wondering if our luck's ever going to shift."

She looks through the last door on her side. Mal turns to do the same on his side.

"Well now, where would the challenge be in that?"

He looks through the window at what he is sure will be an empty room. Jayne looks back at him with dazed eyes.

"Huh."

"Sir?"

Mal gestures at the door. Zoe takes a look through the window and then shoots the lock out.

The room is small and white. Well, mostly white. Up one pristine wall, there is a spray of blood. On the white floor, there are three bodies. Jayne stands in the center of the room, naked, with blood on his hands, his chest, his face. He is holding a scalpel loosely in one hand, and he looks puzzled.

"Jayne? You okay there?"

Jayne squints at him. "Mal? Is that you?"

"Who else?"

The puzzled expression deepens. "Dunno...who else... What?"

Mal steps closer, sees the slight sway Jayne has developed, the dilation of his pupils. Clearly 'who else' was too hard a question for him in this state.

"It's me, Jayne. Are you hurt?"

"Hurt? Naw, not hurt. What are you doing here?"

"Getting you out." He reaches slowly for the scalpel, and Jayne lets him take it.

"The door was locked," Jayne says. "None of them bastards had a key."

"It's open now."

Mal looks at the overturned table behind Jayne. The restraint straps look as if they've been broken.

Jayne follows his gaze. "They didn't strap me down good enough," he says. "They kept asking me about some woman. Never heard of her before, but I'm gonna find her when I get out here and kick her ass."

He tries to take a step toward the door and staggers. Mal catches his shoulder.

"Easy now. We're leaving in a minute, but you got to stay on your feet, okay? We can't carry you."

Jayne nods, rubbing at his eyes and smearing his face with blood. He looks behind Mal. "What's she doing?"

Mal turns to see Zoe bending over the body of the largest of the guards.

"She's getting you some clothes."

He and Zoe manage to get Jayne dressed, all but the boots, which simply will not fit.

***

There are some exciting moments before they make it back to Serenity, but they do make it. Wash's voice comes over the intercom just as the ramp is closing.

"Mal, you might want to get up here. Quick."

Mal runs for the bridge. Obviously, enough hasn't gone wrong on this trip yet.

"What?"

Wash points.

A figure runs across the concrete towards Serenity. Mal knows somehow who it is even before Tatsu turns to look behind her and the virulent orange of the spaceport lights illuminates her face. He follows her gaze and sees her pursuers.

"Looks like she's in trouble." There is a question in Wash's voice.

Tatsu could have been telling the truth. Maybe the Hongs just made a mistake when they snatched Jayne.

Mal hesitates, half ready to tell Wash to lower the ramp again. Her pursuers are closing on her. He'd never be able to get the ship locked up again before they got inside. Which would mean a firefight, and no doctor afterward if any of his people got hurt. When it comes down to a choice between Tatsu and his crew, it's no choice at all.

"Take off."

For once, Wash doesn't argue with him.

***

Sanctuary Moon at sunset. The bulk of the moon's planet, Chrysis, slides between the moon and the sun, outlined with a crown of fire.

Mal watches from the bridge, alone on Serenity. He's not about to leave the boat unattended, and he's sent everyone else off to have fun. All he wants right now is some time to himself. Room to think. Serenity has seemed smaller than usual these past days.

He doesn't blame Zoe and Wash. They're in love. It's not their fault. He's never experienced it personally, but he's seen the whole madly in love thing before, and no one gets through it without acting like a fool, at least temporarily.

Jayne... Well, Jayne is avoiding him. He slipped off the boat earlier without a word. Mal wonders if he's coming back.

He's beginning to think Tatsu was right. Nothing but trouble. Certainly Jayne's brought him nothing but worry since he came on board. It would most likely be for the best if Jayne didn't come back.

Restless, Mal heads down the stairs and through the cargo bay to skulk around outside the ship. He leans against the hull and scans the crowd for Alliance soldiers. There's nothing actually illegal on board at the moment, but the way his luck is running, he'll end up getting arrested for loitering with intent.

Jayne sidles around the corner and stops when he sees Mal. "Hey, Captain. Thought you'd be on the bridge."

Speaking of loitering with intent...

"Jayne. Haven't seen you for a while."

"Yeah. Look, I wanted to, uh. To talk to you."

"So talk."

Jayne stands with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, kicking at the ground and raising small puffs of dust.

"Well?"

"Why'd you do that? Why'd you come for me?"

"You're on my crew. Did you think I was gonna leave you there?"

"Well, yeah. Why didn't you?"

"Because you're on my crew, jackass. Didn't you hear me the first time?"

"That's--" Jayne stops. He looks up from the ground and frowns at Mal. "I ain't. I'm just the hired muscle."

"Maybe. But now you're my hired muscle. I don't leave my people behind."

"But...okay. Okay, fine. Look, why don't you go and...you know. Have fun. Or somethin'."

"I can stay with the boat. It's what I was planning anyway."

"If it's all the same to you, Captain, I'd rather you went. Got me some thinking to do. Think kinda slow. It might take a while. I mean, if you trust me with the boat and all."

Mal looks at him for a moment, not wondering whether he can trust him, but whether it's a good idea to leave him alone right now. He looks miserable. Confused. Pathetic. And...kinda cute, really.

Mal shakes himself. "Sure. No problem."

Hotel, he thinks. Shower. Better yet, bath. It's a plan. He turns away, waving over his shoulder, not looking back.

***

The hotel is called the Vulgar Unicorn. Mal doesn't inquire why.

The room is small, barely big enough for the bed, but at that it's still about twice the size of his quarters on Serenity. The bed is probably three times bigger than his own. The wonders of the bed, however, are eclipsed by the private bathroom--complete with bath.

Mal barely pauses at the door, walking straight through to the bathroom and turning on the water. Minutes later, he sinks into the water and submerges his head.

He opens his eyes, warm water at first stinging them. The pain fades, and the world appears in wavery, limited scope. The ceiling, the tile wall, and the curtain at the window take on a silvery sheen. The light filtering through the curtain splits into rainbows.

With a gasp, he surfaces. The light is too harsh; he closes his eyes, letting images replace reality at random. Most of them seem to be of Jayne.

His mind throws up a picture of Jayne as they found him in that white room, with this wondering expression on his face, like Mal is the very last person he expected to see.

Water sloshes around him, draining through his fingers. He doesn't want to think about this. He can feel the muscles in his shoulders, abused from days in the pilot's seat, tensing up again. At the same time he feels his cock stir.

He grips it, mentally and physically, with relief. There is nothing better as a distraction, and on the boat there is always the unnerving possibility of interruption. It's hard to get into a jerk-off session when he half expects to hear the proximity alert at any second, or Kaylee calling down to him about some failing engine part, or Wash over the comm giving everyone a blow-by-blow account of his latest dino wars, or-- Well, enough of that.

Soap slicks his hand, palm questing over the head where it breaks through the water. His mind searches for appropriate material, and the obvious thing is him and Jayne and the bridge. He pulls Jayne's pants down, shoves his T-shirt up roughly...but it's not the same. He can't sustain it. This is quick and dirty, nothing to do with affection, or...there should be no kissing in this fantasy.

When did he start wanting to kiss Jayne? When did he start wondering what that would feel like, with hard hands at his shoulder and waist, the tickle of Jayne's beard against his cheek, that sweetly confused look that Jayne keeps throwing him...

Images blur together behind his eyes as his hand moves faster, releasing quickly into the lukewarm water.

Afterward he sits for a long time in cooling water as his fingers wrinkle up. He stares at the yellow tile with blank eyes and a mind that seems at last empty of all thought.

***

By the time he leaves the hotel in the morning, he has made a decision. He's just as glad to see Jayne waiting for him on the ramp when he reaches Serenity. Best to get it over with.

"Jayne--"

"Shut up."

For a second, Mal is so surprised that he does. By the time it passes he's listening to what Jayne's saying.

"I been trying to get your measure since I signed on," Jayne says. "Every time I think I got you nailed down, you do something that just don't fit. You had no call to come for me. I got myself in that mess, fair and square. I never... I'm not part of nothing. Not your crew, not nothing. It ain't how I operate." He took a deep breath. "So I think I'd better stay here when you all leave. There'll be somebody along, looking for someone like me. There always is."

Mal nods slowly. "Yup. That's what I decided, too."

"Huh? I mean, it is?"

"Yeah. Thing is, I think I was wrong."

Thanks to the slope of the ramp, Mal has to stand on tip-toe to kiss him. Only for a few seconds, though. After that Jayne gets accommodating and bends his head down. A second after that both their mouths are open, and one large hand is tangled in Mal's hair.

It might have lasted longer, if not for the applause.

They jump apart and turn to look at the small crowd of spaceport workers who have stopped to gawk.

"Woo-hoo!"

"Keep it up, boys, don't mind us!"

"Hah!" someone squawks. "Yeah, man. Keep it *up*!"

Mal turns away from their cheering section and rubs his eyes. It's barely ten in the morning. How did it get to be such a long day?

He catches Jayne's arm as Jayne strides by on his way to do some damage.

"No," he says quietly. He digs the hotel key out of his pocket and presses it into Jayne's hand. "It's the Vulgar Unicorn, room one-ten. Wait for me there. Or not. Up to you." He gives Jayne a little push and sends him on his way.

The cheering section moves off after a few more catcalls and general noises of disappointment, and Mal comms Kaylee.

"Watchya doing?"

"Just window shopping. Something wrong, Captain?"

"Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine..."

"But...?"

"If you're not doing anything, you could watch the boat."

"Captain! Are you actually gonna out and have fun? Don't move, I'll be there in ten seconds."

It is more like ten minutes before she bounces into the cargo bay and hugs him.

"Lock the door behind me."

"I know, I know. Go on. Have fun. Have sex or something. It'll be good for you."

Second thoughts. The bruise is still visible on her forehead. When they came to drag Jayne away, she started throwing apples at them.

"I'm serious, little Kaylee. Lock it up tight and don't open the door unless it's one of us."

She smiles up at him. "Could've sworn I left my daddy behind when I signed on with you, Captain."

He frowns at her.

"All right, okay. I'll lock up. Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Good girl. I've got a comm unit with me, and so does Zoe. Call if there's trouble. No throwing fruit."

He waits outside until the ramp folds up and the lock light comes on.

Wandering through the streets. Everything feels just slightly unreal. Colors are too bright. People are too loud. His mind floats around uncertainly, more than half convinced that he isn't on the way to the Vulgar Unicorn to have sex with Jayne, even as his feet carry him there.

It would be easier to keep floating, but he can't. It isn't how he does things, and so he thinks about it. Sex with Jayne. He touches his lips, feeling the kiss sitting there like a living thing that has taken up permanent residence.

He wonders suddenly if he has that look--that kissed look. If he had it when Kaylee showed up. No. On that count, at least, he is reassured. Kaylee would have said something. Something like, 'Who have you been smoochin' with,' probably.

And here is the Vulgar Unicorn, the lobby, the stairs, room 110.

He knocks.

"You showed up," Jayne says, opening the door wider and tugging Mal inside.

"Did you think I was going to bail?"

"Crossed my mind. This all seems kinda...unlikely. You know? You and someone like me."

"How about you and someone like me? The one's not more unlikely than the other."

"You know what I mean."

"Reckon I do." He pauses. "Unlikely things happen every day."

Jayne smirks. "Yeah. Especially on your boat."

"True enough."

Mal wonders how long they are going to stand here. One of them is going to have to make the first move, and it seems a much harder and more final thing to do than it did before. They're standing close. The move would only have to be a small one.

He steps forward, deep into the unexplored territory of Jayne's personal space. Their bodies touch, thighs, stomachs. Mal pushes his hips forward. The height difference is not considerable, but still he feels Jayne's hardness pushing just above his. Close, but not close enough.

A few steps, and Jayne is backed up against the bed. Mal raises his eyebrows in question, and Jayne sits down, hands on Mal's hips, pulling him forward. One hand moves to Mal's waistband; the other covers the increasingly obvious bulge in his trousers.

Jayne grins up at him. "Nice pants. Always liked these pants."

"One single Captain Tightpants comment, and I'm leaving."

"Don't believe you. Captain Tightpants."

"Yeah, all right, I was lying." And Mal pushes him back, kneeling on the bed, straddling him. Holds himself above Jayne's groin, rubbing lightly, teasing. Until hands grab his hips and jerk him down, and the sudden pressure grinding into the cleft of his ass makes him push down hard. Blood rises to his face--and his cock--and the strength of his reaction is almost embarrassing. Or would be if Jayne wasn't looking up him with glazed eyes and jerking his hips as if he can fuck him through his pants.

Mal's body seems to agree with him, and it's hellishly hard to lift himself up out of contact. He is panting, on all fours above Jayne, and there is only the smallest pause of surprised eye contact before Jayne grabs two fistfuls of his shirt and pulls him down into a searing kiss.

Jayne's hands slide around to his back, holding him down as his mouth is taken over. Mal is hanging onto the edge of his control, telling himself that he is too old for nothing more than a fully clothed grope, telling himself that he's been waiting for a month, and he wants--

Jayne pulls back from the kiss. "Can I fuck you?" he asks, breathless.

A moment of frozen staring. This wasn't the plan, but--

"Hell, yes," Mal mutters. He is already struggling with his pants.

Someone's seam rips; Mal's shirt suffers a loss of buttons. His boots are still on as Jayne bends him over the edge of the bed, panting roughly in his ear. Pants down, ass exposed to the air, to Jayne's questing fingers--and where did he find lube?

Heavy fingers slide between his buttocks, cold and slick, moving over his opening and just stroking until Mal pushes back. Invasion, penetration, this feeling of an alien presence in his body which has always been both frightening and nearly unbearable in its pleasure to Mal. He thinks of other things that have invaded his body, mostly knives and bullets, and then there is no more time to think as fingers are replaced by thick unyielding flesh.

The slow, jerky push in reminds Mal why he so seldom does this, makes him wonder why in the 'verse he is letting Jayne do this to him now. Pain that isn't quite pain, pleasure that isn't quite pleasure, and always this simmering ache and burn that tells him he *needs*. And Jayne is the only one right now who can do anything about that need. It is this dependence that always comes near to driving Mal out of his mind, and Jayne is going so *slow*.

He pushes back, hearing Jayne's hissed breath.

"God, Mal, will you stop? Trying not to hurt you, here."

"You're not gonna," Mal says through gritted teeth.

An inch, a pause. "I've been on the other end of this." Pant, pause. Another inch. "It ain't fun when it hurts."

"Qingwa cao de liumang! Do I look delicate to you?" Mal sucks in breath as another fraction of an inch enters him. "I ain't a woman."

"Wasn't thinking you were. Just don't want to hurt you."

Despite himself, he is impressed with Jayne's control, but mostly he is just sizzling with anger and frustration. He reaches behind himself, digs his nails into Jayne's hip cruelly.

He reaches for his command voice, wincing as it comes out with a tremor. "Just do it."

"I don't want to--"

"I don't fucking care." Sucking in breath. Skin starts to part under his nails. "Just do it."

Grunt and hitch of breath, both of Jayne's hands on his hips, bruising. One fast shove, and he has Jayne inside him, jammed up against his prostate and then pulling back only to slam in again.

Mal is shaking with the intensity of it, with the knowledge of how much he has upped the stakes with his demand, with the suspicion that Jayne is now so far gone he won't stop until he comes--no matter what.

Weight falls against his back with each thrust, and he needs both hands to support himself. His cock stands against his stomach, leaking and begging for attention. When a rough hand leaves his hip and closes around it, he is lost.

It ends quickly for Mal, and he spends himself on his stomach, on the bed, on Jayne's fist. The hand leaves him and digs into his hip, pulling him back to meet harder and harder thrusts until Jayne is gasping in his ear and spilling inside Mal's body.

There is a second spent shaking and panting before they both fall forward onto the bed. Mal welcomes the solid weight on top of him. He feels as if that weight is all that keeps him earth bound. Welcomes it for a while, anyway. Jayne is...heavy. Mal elbows him gently.

A certain amount of discomfort as Jayne slides out, and yes, there is pain. It doesn't seem to matter. Mal is used to pain, and in some way it makes this more real to him.

He turns over and looks up at the ceiling, watching the shadows shift.

He was asleep not two hours ago in this very bed, and he could almost close his eyes and pick up where he left off. Almost. If not for the stickiness, and his pants binding his legs together, and his boots still being on. He sits up and starts working his boots off.

"Where you going?"

"Shower," Mal answers, heading for the bathroom.

He's just finished with the soap when Jayne draws the shower curtain aside and joins him.

"You're blocking the water," Mal tells him.

Jayne steps around to stand behind him, circling his waist with one arm and pulling back so gently that the pressure is hardly noticeable. Mal notices. And, after a second of hesitation, leans back. Not enough that he would fall if Jayne moved, but enough.

He tips his head forward into the warm spray and washes the last of the soap away. Warm droplets rain on his chest and thighs. Against his back he feels the light fur of Jayne's chest, and Jayne's hand strokes casually across his stomach. Mal tries to remember how long it's been since he shared a shower with anyone in more than a purely water-conserving way. He remembers someone before the war, no name attached to the face. It can't really have been that long... But showers are not a feature of daily life aboard Serenity.

He considers, with no degree of seriousness, how much it would cost to change that. Kaylee could find room for the water tanks somewhere, and--

"Mal?"

"What?"

"Are we gonna do this again?"

"Not right this very second."

"But eventually. I mean, once you rest up..."

"Rest up?"

"Yeah," Jayne drawls. "Old man like you, I figure more than once a day is too much to--"

Mal pins him to the shower wall and stops his laughter with teeth on his neck and a hand on his hardening cock.

***

Mal half expects to return to find his ship standing open and empty, his crew scattered to the winds by some unspecified disaster. He walks quickly away from the hotel, leaving Jayne hustling to catch up.

"What's up with you?"

"Just want to get back to the ship, that's all. Left Kaylee all alone there."

Jayne laughs. "Kaylee's a big girl, real grown up. Think she'll be okay for one night on her own." He lays a hand on Mal's ass and squeezes. "Two nights even. I think maybe we ought to just head back to the hotel."

Jayne stops short and yanks on his arm, presumably with the intent of literally dragging him back to bed. Mal uses Jayne's momentum to swing them both around and pull him into an alley.

"That girl could've got herself killed trying to stop them from taking you. You remember that. And you remember this, too. I'm your captain. You do not tell me what to do. Other way around, in fact."

There is a second when he thinks last night was utterly the wrong choice, when he thinks that he'll have to leave Jayne on this world after all, and it's a little shocking how much he doesn't want to do that.

Jayne meets his eyes steadily for five long seconds. Mal counts them off in his head and lets nothing of his thoughts show on his face.

Finally, Jayne blinks and shrugs. "Sure, Mal. No problem. We going back to the ship now?"

Mal watches him a second longer, and then nods. "Yeah."

Out of the alley, back into the sunshine, they walk down the street. Jayne stays close by his side. When they come in sight of the spaceport, Jayne lays a hand on his arm.

"What?"

"You ain't gonna have any trouble from me, Mal."

"Glad to hear it."

He'd like to let it go at that, but Jayne is close, and he smells so good. They showered again together this morning, less than half an hour ago, and the scent of steam and soap lingers, undercut by Jayne's own musk and the tobacco smoke clinging to his clothes. Mal leans closer and notes how careful Jayne is with this kiss. Neither of them want to screw this up.

It might just work.

***

They're back in the sky the next day. Mal wakes to the reassuring thrum of Serenity's engine and Jayne's breath hot against the back of his neck. He disentangles himself from the covers and the man behind him and pulls on pants and shirt.

He makes his way up the ladder and to the kitchen, following the scent of coffee. Zoe is standing over the coffeepot, again wearing the dino bathrobe.

"Nice outfit."

She turns and looks him up and down. "Nice hair."

He runs a hand through it, probably making matters worse.

She brings him a cup and they sit opposite each other at the table.

"So, are you serious about my pilot?"

She raises an eyebrow at him. "Should I expect a white wedding for you and your mercenary?"

The images that brings up are just too bizarre, so he chooses to ignore the question.

"It's not a good idea. Shipboard relationships."

"I think you've lost the moral high ground on that one, sir."

"Me being stupid don't make it any less true."

Zoe smiles at him. "I'm going to say something to you right now I never thought I'd say."

"Yeah?" He slurps at his coffee. "What's that?"

"You're not being stupid, sir."

She stands, picking up her cup and another for Wash. She's out the door before he can come up with a thing to say.

Still, when he thinks about it...Zoe's not often wrong.

-------
..end..
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