BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

SHIELDMAID

Shying Away; Part One
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Once again, it's all about Jayne. Rated for adult language and situations (read: Sex, violence, cussin'). My second attempt at Firefly fan-fic ever, so please be gentle.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 2028    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

It happened on an edge-world moon named Govanne in a port town called "Commonwealth" though even the half-blind could see after one quick look that Commonwealth consisted of a whole lot of common and a distinct lack of wealth.

Not that a one of them complained much. After all, it didn't happen often that Mal's crew had two whole nights to themselves on solid dirt and some decent cash-in-hand, and even this shitty rough little docking town was a better place to spend both than an unbroken long-run in The Black.

So it was that on the grimiest side of a town plenty grimy to begin with, Jayne finally found a tavern offering a local version of whiskey that didn't taste entirely like a chamberpot figured prominently in its distilling process. Jayne then proceeded to sit down at the bar and drink rather a lot of it.

The whole tavern was crowded full of people but--wouldn't it just figure--most of 'em were men and those that weren't men were attached to one; the discovery certainly put a dent in Jayne's plans for the evening. Still, he noticed how most of both were giving wide berth to a little table in the far corner, and when he looked closer that way to see why, his eyes settled on the one person of female persuasion in the entire establishment who was not attached to a man.

Unless Jayne counted the guy she was arm-wrestling at the moment.

She was long and lean, on the hard side of skinny, a woman of the sort Jayne was usually more concerned about breaking outright than getting good and rolling-sweaty with. But her face was nothing she needed to apologize for, she had all her teeth (she smiled wide as she slammed her opponent's hand down hard on the table) and her little strappy dress, though raggedy and some washed-out memory of a color that maybe hadn't started out so grey as it ended up, displayed a whole lot of skin patterned with intriguing tattoos. And her hair… Her hair was downright startling, the color of fresh blood flooding all the way down to her ass. Jayne decided she might be worth a watch or two.

So he watched her arm-wrestle a steady little parade of wharf-jockeys and boatmen, long enough to figure out the nature of her game. She wrestled men who seemed one of two things: soft, or drunk as judges. Didn't mean she wasn't beating them fair, though--Jayne watched her wrestle either-handed, watched the ropes and cables her muscles made jumping beneath her painted, patterned skin. By the time he'd watched her not just win a tidy heap of take for herself but also slam a blade drawn from seeming thin air right through the hand of a guy trying to steal some of it, Jayne had seen enough to be powerfully interested.

And that was even before he knew she was a whore.

Before too long, though, watching her, just watching, got to being as dull as a pig's ass. It always does.

While Jayne was never sure exactly why, he was sure enough aware how often being bored and drunk walked hand-in-hand with his being in some kind of trouble. And Mal had told him, last thing before Jayne disembarked Serenity, that if Jayne ended up in some backwater gaol-cell in these next couple days Mal would leave him there. Pretty sure he didn't want to find out the hard way whether Mal'd been kidding or not, Jayne considered his options, such as they were--muscling his way into the pool table, a spoke-for woman's attentions, or a bar fight--and decided not a one of them was particularly enticing. Not this early on, anyway.

So Jayne rose from his barstool and muscled his way over to the corner table instead.

There was already a guy seated opposite the tattooed woman, but he was so drunk he didn't holler much when Jayne grabbed a shoulder and shoved him bodily out of the chair. The drunk guy staggered off his ass to his feet with an ugly look on his slack face, but after a good eyeful of the man they call Jayne he turned and slalomed his way back towards the bar instead. Jayne dropped into the vacant seat.

The woman looked him over in a way that made Jayne feel like she was weighing him out on a set of those jewelers' scales that measure all the way down to ridiculous trace bits of nonsense, and then she said matter-of-factly, "Move on, pirate; I won't wager with you--you're too damn big. You're like to break my arm and I can't afford that."

Now, Jayne was pleasantly drunk, a rare enough state and one certain to rapidly deteriorate if he had to get back up out of this chair again and find something else to do in this shithouse or another one just like it, so he pulled out a few coins and tossed 'em on the tabletop. "No wagering, then; you win either gorram way. I won't break nothing."

She gathered the coins he'd thrown her with one hand as the other one disappeared beneath the table; Jayne bet himself there was almost certainly a gun in that other hand now, and that it was likely aimed, right this moment, at some part of himself that he was mightily attached to in an unshot condition. "Give me another seventeen, then," she demanded.

Now that was some damn spendy wrestling, the way he saw it, even if she was the only painted redheaded arm-wrestling woman on this heap-of-gos se world. "What? Why?" Jayne leaned back in his chair, let her see his own gun hand was under the table too, now. He could put a hole through her and her chair and at least two of the guys between the exit wound and the pool table from this range with what he was packing, so what did it hurt to warn her?

The woman glanced around her, and then leaned forward to explain, "I'm twenty under quota tonight, and none of these hwundans'll come near me now, what with you sitting here like you bought me outright anyhow. So you'd better pony up the difference and make it official."

Jayne considered that a moment and got it. Suddenly the night grew a little brighter. "You're a whore?" Talk about good fortune. An arm-wrestling whore. With a gun and a smart mouth, at that.

She nodded, even though she was saying, "No. I just find the company in this bedpan stimulating as all manners of hell." Then she eyed him hard through eyes a shade of green as strong and startling as the color of her hair. "I make quota otherwise, when I can. Gustin don't care how, long as he gets his. But none of it's an option now with you sitting here bold as sunrise. So pay up, pirate, or get gone." She leaned farther forward, offering him a view of some astonishing cleavage even as, beneath the table, Jayne felt something hard and cold tap his knee twice; it could only be the muzzle of that gun he'd just known was there in that other hand. "Or you'll take a bullet. Nothing personal, understand, but a woman's got to eat and these barge-skinners have to know I mean business."

"I don't pay for nothing I don't get," Jayne told her. He leaned forward himself, tapped her on the knee with his own gun barrel. Just twice, just enough to return the favor and let her know he wasn't some stupid transport-layover yokel. "Sort of a personal…what-do-you-call…guideline, dong luh ma?"

The whore stiffened straight in her chair and swore at him. Then she looked at him with, unless Jayne had gone suddenly moonbrained, what looked like actual interest for the first time. Sighing heavily, she pushed a thick strand of shimmering hair out of her face where it'd fallen over an eye. "Fair enough. Give me the seventeen and if you want, I'll roll you." She looked like she was weighing him again, but the way her eyes seemed to catch on various parts of him it seemed like she was using a different kind of scale now. Smiling the tiniest bit, she shrugged and muttered, "Might as well be you as any of these pieces of shit. You look clean, anyhow."

Her shoulders were broad and bare beneath the little straps holding up her dress; when she shrugged, the colored pictures on her skin slid smoothly over the muscles moving beneath them. The sight drew Jayne to wondering, if he ran his fingers over those pictures right now, would they be soft or slick? Smooth or raised? Warm or cool? Then he remembered something important about what she'd said, and he blinked. "Roll me." Jayne repeated, cocked his head and narrowed his eyes to look at her unblinking. "Now, are you saying you're gonna try to get me drunk and rob me, or that we're gonna do some ruttin' around? 'Cause that first one, it just ain't--"

But she cut him off. "Give me the seventeen and we'll see what happens." She grinned full at him and damned if she didn't wink, too. "By the look of you I'm guessing you can manage, either case."

Jayne considered that--to his figuring, twenty wasn't much for any wharf-town whore remotely worth the name. Might as well be this whore as any other. Especially this one. Something about the way she grinned made him think he might regret passing her up, later on.

So he pulled out a few paper-cash bills, counted 'em twice, and tossed them onto the table between himself and the painted whore. "Gorram it, you better be good," he grumbled because he felt like he had to say something. But he didn't put any teeth into the remark.

And she must have caught his mood; instead of getting all huffy, she threw her head back so all that heavy red hair shifted and danced behind her like thick, dark fire, and she laughed. It was an unexpected sound, as wild and free and open as everything that's good about The Black and absolutely out of place here in this shitty little tavern in this shitty little town on this shitty little moon. Even though there wasn't any joke Jayne could put his finger on, the sound made him want to laugh along with her.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she chuckled finally, smiling right at him like she knew him, like they were friends who went way back and she was glad to see him again, "Right back at you, pirate. Right back at you." **************** She said she had to wait around the tavern until Gustin came to collect--which should be pretty quick--and after, she'd take him out on the town for whatever Jayne wanted. That was okay with Jayne; he had a paid guarantee for how the evening would end, and a table by himself with the painted arm-wrestling whore until then. Once he'd hailed a passing barman to bring a bottle of whiskey and a couple shot glasses, life settled into being pretty damn good.

The whore wasn't at all unpleasant company; she matched Jayne shot for shot, and kept him conversating without asking him a bunch of stupid questions he didn't know how or want to answer, and once, when he'd said something she found amusing, she reached over to lay her right hand on his arm while she laughed. Jayne looked down at her hand against his skin, marveling at how small it looked there. Then his eyes found the landscape unfurling across her forearm with pale yellow flowers blooming on green hills, birds against a blue sky bordered by a forested tree line. The leaves of those trees were turned over silver by a breeze Jayne could almost feel; he could almost smell the green grasses tracking that breeze in gentle waves and swaying yellow blossoms. And then, because Jayne's eyes were sharp enough to hit a man in the neck at 600 yards with a bent scope, he saw, just barely visible against the curve of a hillside nearest her wrist, a tiny house with smoke curling from its chimney, seen from far, far away.

When he bent to look closer, the whore pulled her arm away as if his skin had suddenly burned her palm. "What's that?" Jayne nodded at the landscape.

She laughed, but to Jayne's ears it sounded false, tinny. "A trifle is all. Saw it in a capture once."

Jayne didn't think so, but whatever might have been said after that was interrupted by the arrival in the tavern of a group of men that made the whore's eyes narrow to splinters of cold bottle-glass when she saw them. "Gustin," she said, low, and gathered up the handful of coins and bills she'd counted out while they'd talked.

Jayne turned and sized them up, two guys (unremarkably filthy and low-dressed and hungry-looking as any other man in this town except for the super-sized firearms they wore on their hips) flanking a third--a tallish sort, dressed like a dandy, clean and built like a man who had enough money for food and enough time to work at staying strong--who walked in and looked about like he owned the place which, as far as Jayne knew or cared, maybe he did. Jayne pegged that one for Gustin, and decided by looking the guy was likely a right pissant of the sort that thought the 'verse revolved around him because he had a middling pretty face and a set of cold mean eyes. Jayne crossed his arms across his chest, leaned back in his chair so far the old ladder-back creaked dangerously, and noted how the crowd parted before the three sauntering up to the table he shared with the painted whore.

Ignoring Jayne entirely, the one he pegged as Gustin stopped beside the whore and smiled down at her. That smile, Jayne decided, was just about as out of place on that pretty-boy's face as a mustache was on a snake. Jayne modified his first impression--not only was the man surely a pissant, he was surely a dangerous pissant, too.

"How's my spotted bitch?" The pissant asked pleasantly, looking down at Jayne's whore.

Jayne saw a muscle jump once, twice in her cheek as she bit down on something--her tongue, the inside of her lip, an honest reply, maybe--but when she answered, her voice was level and pleasant right back at him. "I'm fine, Gustin."

Gustin ignored her. Instead, his eyes, so pale grey that they seemed entirely colorless, passed over the space she occupied until they found Jayne and came to rest there. As though commenting on Jayne's shirt or something, he said, "You hurt her, I'll see you dead."

Jayne stared back hard. "Didn't pay to hurt her."

Gustin's eyes narrowed briefly at that, and then he turned back to the whore. "Ah. So you've found a gentleman, at last.”

Even Jayne recognized the sarcasm dripping like slime from those words for what it was, but just in case he hadn't got the point the dandy settled his open coat over the piece slung on his hip. It was surely costly enough what with the gold chasing and pearly grips and the fancy-tooled holster, but it was a small gun best suited for the short-range shooting of a man you already had the drop on and wanted to die impressed. And gorram it, it looked like a gaudy kid's toy.

Jayne drew a deep breath to make an appropriately gentlemanly observation about the unfortunate size of the dandy's hogleg, but before he could the whore jumped right in, offering Gustin the money she held. Gustin took it, counted it and made it disappear into a side pocket, then he turned briefly to the two men waiting on him to say with that snake-like smile again, "Sorry, boys; looks like you're on your own tonight."

The whore reddened and looked away. Gustin set a hand onto her right shoulder, tightened his grip until his knuckles whitened and his fingers bit deep into the long-tailed bird flying across her skin in dark shades of deep blues and greens. The whore stared straight ahead; her expression did not change; she did not blink. "Tomorrow, then," Gustin remarked finally and let go of her, wiping that hand on the front of his long coat.

"Tomorrow." The whore nodded but she did not look at him.

She didn't look at Jayne, either, once Gustin and his twin shadows moved away and faded into gone. If Jayne had been forced to describe the change in her he'd have said some of her lights went out, and for some reason he couldn't figure, it bothered him to see it. "You want me to shoot him?" As soon as he said it, he realized he wasn't joking after all. Especially when his eyes settled back on the place where the marks of Gustin's fingers lay hidden by the colors set into her skin.

It worked, regardless. Once she looked up all startled, her face refashioned itself into a lopsided grin that had only a touch of residual sadness in it. "'Course I do," she drawled, "But you paid for entertainment, not a shoot-out, and I owe you." She took a deep breath and shook her hair back behind her shoulders, like a dog shedding water, like she was shaking particles of Gustin right off her skin, and then fixed her green eyes on him. "So, pirate, what do you want to do first?"

Jayne looked around, considering. The tavern smelled like a dead drunk's armpit, and the only charm it held was leaving with him. Besides, not shooting Gustin had left him on the outer edge of a foul mood. He had the sudden desire to be outside, anyplace else, where he could see the open sky. Grabbing the rest of the bottle of whiskey, Jayne stood up. "Let's get out of this jung chi deh go-se dway."

Damned if her green eyes didn't catch some kind of fire, spark with the same free wildness that filled her laugh--her real laugh. She hopped out of her chair and hooked her arm through Jayne's smart-as-you-please, as if they were going to a cotillion or an uptown stage-show, grinning like he'd just given her a sweetheart ring or something. "C'mon then. Let a girl show you a good time." ************** The first place she took him to was a tall-card parlor where Jayne discovered she played viciously, taking his money along with everyone else's far more often than she lost her own, all without breaking a sweat or losing the good humor that was on her since they left the tavern. When the same people who greeted her friendly started grumbling when she won and it seemed ugliness might be in the brewing, she pocketed her winnings, took Jayne by the hand and pulled him laughing out of the parlor back into the night, her blood-colored hair unfurling behind them like a crimson wake.

The second place she took him to was an alehouse boasting a local spiced honeywine that tasted like candy made especially for big-gun-toting, sky-sailing men. It simmered deliciously like hard-burn in the belly, and was costly enough that it was a damned good thing she was such a fine tall-card player and buying, too.

They sat and drank at one of the outdoor tables set in front of the alehouse that sold the stuff, right out under the sky where the stars were visible and the night breeze stirring their hair was cool and didn't smell too much of garbage and gos se.

“So how’d you end up beholden to that piece of shit, anyhow?” At the bottom of his first glass Jayne discovered he was still nursing the not shooting of the toy-gunned dandified pissant like it was a sore tooth.

“Gustin?”

When Jayne nodded, the whore leaned back to look at the stars like maybe the story was written among them someplace, leaned and looked for so long that Jayne began to wonder if maybe the honeywine had made her a whole lot drunk a whole lot fast, and he'd missed it somehow. But finally she sat forward again, shook her head; her hair whispered against her skin. “Oh, now, that’s a long story and neither of us is drunk enough to sit through it.” She looked down at her hands and then back up into his eyes, “Ask me something else.”

The set of her jaw dared him to press the issue, which upon a different occasion Jayne might have done for fun just to see how far she’d fight him on the subject. But she’d treated him fair so far, and he was mightily looking forward to touching her at some point tonight.

Besides--and this Jayne would have rather taken a flesh wound than admit--he bet he knew the story already, had heard a hundred-hundred like it before from the mouths of other whores and such. A young girl with a dead mama and a live step-daddy almost always figured into it, and the telling of it made most whores break down and cry no matter how much they'd had to drink or how well sexed up they'd been first.

Jayne’d already seen the painted whore take some hurt without flinching, and he sure enough remembered the warning tap-tap of her gun barrel on his knee. And he’d heard her laugh.

After that he didn’t want to see her cry.

So he asked her something else. "How come you keep calling me ‘pirate’?"

She cocked her head and appraised him through the thick lowered lashes of her narrowed eyes. “’Cause if you ain’t one, I’m losing my touch.”

Jayne considered that. Boat, crime, unsavory company, running from the law... Yeah. He supposed she did have the right of it. He shrugged. “Coulda just asked my name, you know.”

It made her smile that old-friends smile at him again. "Sure--and you'd've lied right in my face." She took a drink and ran her tongue out to chase the sweetness from her lips before adding, "You didn't ask mine, either."

Jayne considered that and shrugged; she was right on both counts. "Okay then. I'm asking."

That seemed to surprise her some. She sat back in her chair and considered him from across the table curiously. “You paid--I’ll answer to whatever you want, ."

"Ain't what I asked," Jayne reminded her, frowning now.

She looked like she might argue with him, which he figured might be fun in itself, but then she drank deep, eyeing him over the rim of her glass. When she set it down again she was smiling--though, Jayne thought, a little nervously. "Fine, then. My mama named me Shy. Ain't that the most ironic name a parent ever tacked on a child?" She chuckled. Then, "What do they call you?"

The fact she'd left him a back door out of the question wasn't lost on him. But it couldn't hurt to say it, way out here where she was the only one to hear. And he very much wanted to hear her say it later on, when things heated up. So he told her. "Jayne."

Her left eyebrow rose, arched, the only part of her that moved for a long string of moments. Finally she shook her head wonderingly. "I stand corrected."

Then, her green eyes glinting in the night, she offered her hand to him across the table. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jayne. Still want to arm-wrestle?" ************ Of course Jayne won.

Every time.

Either-handed.

It could hardly be otherwise, given the difference in their sizes, and the fact that Jayne sure as hell wasn't about to let her win. But she was even stronger than he’d guessed, and she never gave up or in, not even when losing was forgone. And every time the back of her hand hit the table, she just laughed, "Best two of three," and "Best four of five."

Though it was damn fun, Jayne finally called a halt to it before he hurt her. "This is getting downright shameful, woman. I'm thinking you just want an excuse to hold my hand," he teased.

But his joke fell flat when she flipped her hair out of her eyes to meet his gaze square and grinning, her dancing eyes suddenly full of green flame. "Well, no shit." Her smile smoldered. She downed the rest of her honeywine without letting go of his hand. "Let's go home, pirate."

Jayne's blood caught fire, reading the verdict of that look, those words, and his world suddenly went hard and then painfully hard. "Damn straight." He drained his glass and they stood up together.

Without any other talk, Shy began to lead him through the night. ************* They made it as far as an alley a few intersections past the honeywine alehouse before they pulled each other into the shadows like they'd planned it that way ahead of time. In the alley, the darkness narrowed and telescoped into hands and skin and rough breathing and the rustle of clothing opened or moved or dragged or torn out of the way.

Jayne finally kicked some potted plants from the closest narrow alley door-stoop with a crash, daring someone to come outside to take them to task. He would shoot them in the head, so help him, it was that simple and this was that necessary. He sat down there and she parted her long legs around him and then it was easy, silk sheathing steel, velvet clutching stone, and their breathing came harsh and fast and together and quick. Soon, so very soon, Shy the painted whore arched almost double between Jayne's hands, keening through her gritted teeth and Jayne's own pleasure turned into a long exclamation of bright stars echoed endlessly above him as he threw back his head to the sky, exhaling a long broken breath and a reverent cussword into all that spattered light.

After, Jayne closed his eyes, felt the breeze chill him where he'd sweated through his shirt, listened to his uneven breathing and hers. Shy leaned forward, rested against his chest, and without thinking about it, Jayne circled her shoulders with an arm. They just sat that way a while until she started to shiver in the cool breeze, until she raised her head and observed quietly, "Oh, I want you in a bed."

Who was he to argue? Jayne opened his eyes.

She climbed off him, straightened her dress. He stood up, refastened what needed it so they wouldn't get nabbed for indecent exposure and when she held out her hand to him, Jayne took it in his.

The night felt young. ************ Her place was located nearby over a dicing parlor, up a rickety set of open leaning stairs against the back of the building, through a door keyed with three different locks, and not a whole lot bigger than his bunk aboard Serenity.

But there was a definitely a bed.

Lying in it, Jayne made her leave the lights on so he could see all of her naked Shy undressed for him slowly, languidly turning so he could read all the shades of her skin. When she saw how hard looking at her made him, she began to dance, moving like a fan-dancer, a charmed snake, a wisp of bright smoke, until Jayne could bear no more of the space separating them and rasped, "Get over here, woman."

Then she was under him; then Jayne was deep-to-the-root in her; and they were both trembling from the good of it.

As the night unrolled, Jayne found her name even more ironic; she was almost as shameless between the sheets as Jayne himself, a kindred spirit willing to try most anything they could imagine two people getting up to with each other. Hell, she nearly made him blush a time or two, wringing out of him with her mouth, her hands, her body, every drop of sweet, shuddering release he had in him.

And he gave as good as he got, reading the sounds Shy made--the low throaty ones, the ones gasped or keened, the ones cried out agasint the hollow of his shoulder--like they were a star-chart. Jayne navigated them to take her to places that made her writhe and wail, places where her pleasure bridged her beneath him so hard she practically raised him off the bed.

At last Shy lie spent and quiet under him, tracing aimless shapes over the sweat-slick, scratched-up skin of his back with her fingertips, and Jayne lay on her drained dry in every shiny sense of the word he knew of, thinking this was maybe the best spent twenty he’d ever parted with. And just like that, sleep came to claim him whole; Jayne had barely enough time to move off of her and gather her close before sleep tumbled him under. ************* When he opened his eyes again, it was to a sunbeam slanting across his face through a tear in the drapes over a window beside the bed. Jayne slammed his eyes shut again as turned his face away from the light, cursing, and became aware of three things all at once: He had one serious bitch-dog of a headache, he had to piss something ferocious and a hand that was not his own was skillfully working his wide-awake john thomas.

Except for the pounding in his head and the growing need to find a toilet, it was the best way to wake up, ever.

Jayne sighed heavily, caught that hand by the wrist it was attached to, held it still. After last night he knew without looking his fingers covered a bracelet of yellow roses right there on her skin.

"Gorram it, woman," he groaned appreciatively. Opening his eyes again, more slowly this time, Jayne turned his head--gently--to where Shy was lying on her side next to him, her head propped up on the hand not on Jayne, watching him with gleaming green eyes. "Hold that thought, dong ma? I gotta drain the lizard something fierce."

Shy nodded, raised the hand that had put Jayne's man-flesh in such a conflicted state to point past the foot of the bed to a door in the far wall. "I'll be right here."

The walk across the room went just fine until Jayne turned back at the door to look at her.

Then the part of him which had begun to focus on the immediate task at hand was immediately supplanted by the effect of seeing her there--her uncommon hair mussed, her tattooed body all colors and long lines tangled in the rumpled covers of her bed, waiting for him to come back to her.

And in that back-looking moment, Jayne imagined all they could do to, and with, each other as soon as he'd stretched down with her again. And what they might get up to doing, after. And after that, even. They could go to a greasy spoon someplace for dinner, maybe. Or to a firing range, if there was one to be found in this dung hill town, to see what kind of hand she had with that gun she carried.

He imagined what she'd make of life in The Black.

He imagined knowing someone was watching his back the way Zoe watched Mal's, Wash's, and Jayne wondered what that might be like.

The answer came to him wearing her shape.

That's when it happened.

With a sudden blood-icing, ball-tightening surge of horror, Jayne realized she mattered.

To him.

He hurried into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. ******************** By the time he came back out again, Jayne knew what he had to do.

Crossing the room again he kept his eyes on the carpet, the drapes, the far wall until he reached the bed and more importantly, the place he'd dropped his clothes last night. He sat on the edge of the bed and began to dress without looking at her.

The bed shifted under him as Shy moved; he pictured her sitting up, imagined the look she might be casting at his back right now, and he dressed faster.

It went quiet, so quiet that Jayne could hear a dog barking somewhere far off, and a little kid's voice telling it to shut up. He bent up to pull on his boots. The silence was suffocating him.

Shy broke it at last. "What--did you see a rat in there?" Beneath her bantering words there was tension; the fact that he heard it and knew it for what it was made him fumble his left bootlace into a snarly rutting knot.

Because he had to say something, Jayne told his boot, "Have to be someplace."

"Oh."

There were so many things in that single sound, that one word riddled with hope and hurt and a flat lack of surprise and a wealth of anger old and anger new-minted. Jayne heard them all and he knew what look would be on her face if he turned, and he knew if he saw it he'd be back in bed with her in no time and he might be saying things Jayne Cobb wasn't about to say to anyone, let alone some whore he'd paid to roll him for a night on solid terra, especially not this whore with her painted skin and her ironical name. As he stood to go, he hoped she would just keep her mouth shut.

But she didn’t. "I... Last night..." Whatever she had to say, Jayne already knew he didn't want to hear it. But he couldn't just walk; he just couldn’t though he couldn’t gorram say why. So he stood there.

"I have enough from playing tall-card last night." Shy told his back, and when Jayne didn't say anything, she went on, "Thought I'd give that to Gustin tonight. You know, if you were going to be around. We could..."

Possibilities went winging through Jayne's mind-eye at the thought of another night with her; he cursed that eye and promised to blind it first chance he got later, once he figured out exactly where it was.

Shy's voice died away to silence. Finally.

"I can't. Someone's waiting for me." Sure it was a bold-out lie, at least until tomorrow. But it wasn't like this was the first or worst lie he'd ever told, even if it sure as hell was shaping up to be one of the hardest. Jayne started walking.

This new silence was different, cold. Fingers of ice reached across the room, ran up his spine and, with his hand on the doorlatch, Jayne paused. And he looked back.

Shy was still in bed, but she was sitting up straight now, all stiff lines and sharp angles with her rigid back and her drawn-up knees, her bedcovers pulled high and tight around her. Her eyes had turned once again into shards of cold green glass. She was looking at the foot of her bed, not at Jayne, but he recognized the look, could practically see the hurt sinking into her like Gustin's fingers, burying itself beneath all those bright colors.

She did not flinch.

She did not blink.

Not until Jayne slammed the door behind him, anyway. But he couldn’t have known that. ***************** He spent the day drinking a lot of spiced rum at various places around the tavern-heavy part of town, watching Cortex feeds of gladiator games and pit fighting interspersed by commercials for products Jayne couldn't have named a minute after they'd played out. Even so, he appreciated with sincerity nigh unto reverence the efforts of the scanty-dressed models trying to sell whatever it was they were selling.

After liberal repeated applications of rum and a plateful of fried-something, his headache finally passed from him. That was a mercy, anyway.

As the day lengthened into afternoon and then late afternoon, a short, squabby woman took up the barstool next to him.

Jayne ignored her and kept drinking

Even so, despite her failed attempts to engage Jayne in any form of meaningful dialogue and after she'd thrown back a few suspiciously bright pink fizzing drinks, damned if that same woman didn’t lean over and propose something quite unexpected.

Jayne listened carefully and considered--the part of him still resentful about how this morning turned out clamored for him to accept--her offer. But it featured the wall out behind the bar right there in daylit plain view of anyone walking past, and she had a wicked overbite and a pair of buck teeth she could have opened bottles with. That was all Jayne needed, Mal leaving him on this dump forever because he'd broken some gorram local blue law and got the skin scraped off his cod in the process.

Besides. He'd had enough of whore-related complications to last him clean through tomorrow.

Jayne declined.

When she swept away in dubious offended huffery, he bought another drink and a cigar to celebrate his own wisdom.

But as late afternoon ran on into night and shift changes brought in the haulers and the barge-skinners and the fuel-jockeys from the docks, Jayne found it harder and harder to keep the painted whore out of the corners of his mind. Looking at the faces of the men reflected in the mirrored back-bar, Jayne's mind kept asking him, "That one--you suppose he's done her? Did she smile did she scratch did she scream did she swallow did she get there? Did she like it? ” And "How about that one?” “That one?” “Him?"

Before long Jayne was ready to shoot the next one he imagined tangled up in the painted whore's long legs and astonishing red hair, and it was plainly time to go. He swallowed his last shot while rising to his feet, and was gone before the barkeep picked up the coins Jayne had left spinning on the bar.

Jayne found himself on the dark dank streets with a mind full of a powerful deep shade of ugly. Damn the painted whore, anyway. Who the hell did she think she was, whispering Jayne's name into his ear while he traced the pictures laid into her skin until she trembled? While they moved, fast, slow, up the slope of each astonishing edge and then over? When he held her close and eased at last into sleep without dreaming?

Who was she to do that, some painted whore whispering his name like she meant it?

Jayne decided to find her and ask. ************** He thought about it all the way back to the tavern he'd met her at last night--what he'd say when he saw her, how he was going to say it, what he'd do to the guy who'd paid her for the night if the dumbass got in Jayne's way until he'd had his say. But when he came close enough to read the gas-lit letters over the door naming "The Black Spot," the number of people pouring out of that door made much of it go clean out of his head.

Frowning, Jayne reached into the crowd and pulled out the first guy he latched onto. "There a fire?" Jayne asked that guy.

"You don't wanna go in there, mister,” the guy warned him, shaking his head for emphasis. "Gustin's in there. Pissed."

That told Jayne everything he needed. He shoved the guy back into the stream of traffic and began forcing his way in against the tide.

It thinned out at the last; when Jayne finally stood inside the tavern, there was no one in it but for himself, Gustin's two thugs and Gustin, and Shy, the infuriating painted arm-wrestling whore. Not a one of them looked his way.

Gustin had his kid-toy pistol drawn and pointed at Shy's face and not two feet separated them both. No matter how foolish-gaudy that weapon looked, Jayne knew its bullet at near point-blank range would kill her deader than shit.

Shy knew it too. Jayne could see it in her eyes even though she stared unblinking, hard, cold, right into Gustin's colorless grey ones. Jayne could see the truth of it settle into the lines and planes of her face, her body: no amount of cheerful pictures and colored inks could hide the killing hurt that toy gun would deal her. And Jayne could see she was ready for that bullet, ready to take it standing, ready to stare Gustin down even as it blew out the back of her head.

Seeing it, knowing it for what it was, touched something in Jayne’s belly to fire and it wasn’t the rum he'd drunk. His hand found his weapon, began to ease it free. No sense moving sudden while he had the drop, not while she was under the pissant’s gun like that. "You don't tell me," Gustin was saying to her, soft and pleasant-like, as though they were having some civilized conversation, "I tell you. And I'm telling you the boys are powerful lonesome tonight."

"But I made your quota, Gustin. You took the money." Shy's voice was low but she couldn't hide the teeth in it.

Gustin’s eyes narrowed to slits and he smiled at her before striking her hard to the floor with the butt of his gun. Good. Now stay down, woman, Jayne thought, stay down or you'll be in the way.

But Shy hauled herself to her feet, spit a mouthful of froth as red as her hair onto the floor and squared her shoulders. She met Gustin’s gaze again.

Moving fast as a snake, Gustin grabbed a handful of her hair at the back of her head and snatched her close, jamming the gun barrel into the soft flesh beneath her jaw. Kao! Jayne cursed inwardly and eased his hand back off his weapon again.

"You do what I say you'll do," Gustin leaned close, close as a lover, to say softly, distinctly, into her ear, "Else I'll shove this thing up the only part of you that's worth a turd and pull the trigger until all the chambers are empty." His smile grew broader, "Hell. Maybe I’ll even reload."

"Hey, now," Jayne didn't know the words were going to come out of his mouth until they did, but he wasn't sorry once they were said. "That ain't right."

Gustin lifted his head at the sound of Jayne's voice and then turned to glance that way. His smile grew wider with recognition. "If it ain't the gentleman. You come to save this bitch, gentleman? I gotta warn you, she's thinking she's a person today."

Jayne snorted. "Hell no. Just want another poke at her is all; she weren't half bad. I got money."

Gustin considered that, looking carefully at Shy's face the whole time; Jayne hoped she wouldn't flinch now. Finally Gustin asked, "How much money?"

Jayne reached slowly into his drinking-and-whoring-money pocket to pull out his wad of remaining bar cash, glanced at it. "Fifty-two." He tossed it over to one of Gustin's goons who caught and counted it and nodded to Gustin.

"Fifty-two, huh?" Gustin said nothing else for so long that Jayne's hand started easing back to his gun, but finally the dandy nodded. Okay, then."

He shoved Shy so hard to the floor she skidded all the way to Jayne's feet. “Take her.”

She made as if to rise again, but Jayne snapped at her nasty as he knew how, "Stay down there!" He spared her a quick glance to see if she was hurt much, but she wasn't bleeding anyplace he could tell except a split swelling on her lip, so he turned his full attention back to matters at hand. They could go south damn quick despite money changing hands. Especially since money’d changed hands. Jayne knew that song by heart, all right, having called the tune himself a time or fifty.

But Gustin was well on his way to the door with his thugs when Jayne looked again. He paused halfway there to turn his pretty-boy face back to Jayne. "If she gets sharp with you,” he drawled, “Teach her some manners. Use a knife." And then he was gone.

Jayne didn't move for a long moment and neither did Shy. Not until people started to trickle back in off the street. Then he looked down at her. "You can get up now."

Rising slowly, Shy smoothed her hair with shaking hands. But once she was on her feet, she turned and threw a right hook directly at Jayne’s head so fast he barely dodged it in time and so hard he heard the air move as her fist passed his face.

"What the gorram hell is that for?" Jayne demanded, thinking maybe he should just shoot her himself and be done with this whole troublesome mess, she was so damned confounding.

"Ni zhao si ma?” Shy’s voice rose, shaking with fury and, Jayne allowed, likely a fair amount of adrenalin being she'd just spent some time staring down her own death and all, “ Do you know how close you were to getting your ass shot off?"

Grabbing her upper arm before she could swing at him again, he steered her to an empty table; people were staring at them. "’Course I know--it’s my ass, ain’t it? Now sit down and keep your voice courteous.” Jayne spoke low, put warning into every single word. “Try hitting me again, I’ll knock you out and leave you here lying on your back."

Shy looked like she was calculating the threat, and him, coldly and carefully, but finally she threw herself down into a chair. "What did you come back here for?"

Jayne wasn't sure how to answer that question, especially since he was asking himself the same damn thing. The answer was tied up somewhere in a big nasty ball of unkind things he wanted to say to her alongside the sight of her facing down Gustin's gun and how gorram stupid-good it was to be this close to her again. He wasn't sure what needed to be said and what needed to be deep-space airlocked, so he said all he could--which was nothing at all.

After waiting a while with all her unhidden impatience there across from him in silence, Shy abruptly stood up, shaking her blood-red hair angrily until the ends snapped and crackled. Jayne’s fingers twitched, remembered moving through those strands. "Gou huang tang. Thanks for saving me, pirate, but I have to..."

Jayne's hand around her wrist stopped her midsentence and midstep. "Who says I saved you?"

Shy stared at him like he'd turned purple or something and then her eyes got wide, then narrow. "Oh, hell no."

It was as good a time as any; Jayne rose to his feet, still hanging onto her wrist. "Damn straight--I paid for you square. And that pencil-dick go tsao de hwundan don't strike me as the refunding type, so let's go."

He could hear her swearing at him all the way as he pushed his way through the crowd and out of the tavern, towing her along behind him by the wrist, but she did it quietly and didn't try to shoot, stab or hit him so he didn't feel a pressing need to do anything about it.

Retracing their steps from last night, Jayne pulled her along until they reached the dicing parlor and then behind it. Shoving her ahead of him up the rickety steps, he still held onto her arm just in case she decided to do something foolish like bolt inside and lock him out.

But she didn't.

No, it was much worse than that. ********************* Shy let him into her place without speaking, without looking at him; once she’d locked the door behind them, Jayne finally let go of her. Pointedly avoiding him, she sat down in one of the splintered, mismatched chairs at her small table--a stubby plank resting across two stacks of crating--and turned her back on him.

And then she covered her face with her hands and wept, her blood-colored hair falling down around her face, over her hitching shoulders, like a curtain, like a shroud.

Jayne stood horrified and uncertain a long while, finding he wanted very much to get the hell out of there and as far away from her as he could, after all. Instead of taking him back to the door, though, his feet took him to her other chair and since he was there anyway, Jayne sat down in it.

He raised an uneasy, reluctant hand and then let it fall back to rest on his leg. Swearing silently at himself Jayne gritted his teeth, raised that hand again to slide it beneath the cool fall of her hair and rest on her closest shoulder. When he found himself marveling all over again how something as unyielding as her shoulder-muscles beneath his fingers could be covered in something as soft as her skin, Jayne called himself a very bad man but forced himself to leave his hand there anyway.

Turned out that was the right thing to do; it kept him from dragging his chair closer to hers and putting an arm around her--an urge that hit him sudden-like, every bit as powerful as getting up and walking away.

Mercifully, her tears didn’t last long. Abruptly Shy sat straight, wiped her eyes and drew a deep long breath that shook a little. “You didn't need to see that.” She looked at her hands. They were shaking a little, too.

“I wanted to shoot him, you know,” Jayne told her, because it suddenly felt very important that she know, “A lot. Still do. Still could.”

That made her glance up and smile, but it was a small, tight smile because of the spilt in her lip. “Me too.”

She glanced at her shoulder and Jayne realized with a start his hand was still sitting there. He cleared his throat and crossed his arms across his chest instead. He had a lot to say to her and his hands on her weren’t going to speed that process along any. “You’re like to get your chance, then. The look on his face, I'd say you're in trouble once that fifty wears off.”

A muscle twitched in Shy’d jaw and she swallowed once, twice. “Sure am. He’ll give you tonight ‘cause you paid and he fancies himself a businessman. But if I'm still around after that… Hell, pirate--he invited you to cut me up. That doesn't bode well.” She made a slashing gesture with her hand that didn’t need any translation and looked down at where her fingers began to worry a loose thread in her skirt. “It's my own fault, really.”

“What’d you do--insult that candy-ass little gun of his?”

She fixed him with a look Jayne couldn’t read. “No. I had fun last night. That’s a mighty dangerous mistake for a woman in my line of work to make.”

Jayne could see her point, he supposed; it was a rare whore indeed who had the druthers of liking her job, at least in his experience.

Then the words sank in, and then all the ways she might mean them. It set him back a little, what with all the things filling his head all day, and now night, long that circled and buzzed like a swarm of bees until he swatted them down again. There was stuff to do here.

“How good a shot are you?” He asked.

“Good, but it don’t matter.” She leaned forward in her chair, watching his face. “He can buy whatever he wants done.”

“No,” Jayne remembered the look of the dandy’s smile, “He’ll do the big hurting himself. A pissant like him wants to hurt you while you watch.”

When she answered, her voice broke. “I know.”

“The law of any use around here?” Jayne hadn’t actually ever seen a place were the law was of any use, but it didn’t hurt to ask. By the look on her face, it also couldn't hurt to change the subject.

That question made Shy laugh outright, but it was a harsh sound. “These parts, the law belongs to Gustin as much as I do.”

Just like he’d figured. Jayne folded his arms behind his head and leaned back, thinking. Taking out Gustin and his goons would be simple--hell, Jayne could do that himself easy enough, given a little time to track them down--but it wouldn’t help her in the long view, not really. Kill Gustin and Shy’d likely be hunted down soon afterwards, by either someone bent on settling the score, or whoever moved in to claim the vacant territory and didn't want to mess with sorting out any leftovers. And this heap-of-gos se town--probably this whole rutting moon--sure didn't offer a wealth of places where a painted arm-wrestling whore could hide herself for long.

So Jayne shrugged and said what made the most sense. “I'm shipping out tomorrow. You should come with me.”

To his very sincere astonishment, now Shy flinched--just like he'd reached over and slapped her. Hard.

Her eyes iced over. “That's not funny, pirate.”

“It ain't supposed to be. It's supposed get you safe.” Jayne argued, frowning at her. “There’s other places in the ‘verse than this shit heap, y’know.”

“That’s what I hear,” she said, dry as Mal, and then her voice changed into something heavy, earthbound. “What would I do?”

Jayne grinned. “Well, you could get off someplace you fancied and arm-wrestle yourself a right nice living, for starters.”

Her eyes defrosted and she came close to laughing at that, so close Jayne almost slipped in, Or maybe you could stay aboard Mal's boat, if you can shoot worth a damn and put up with your fair share of assholery. All in all, it was a better life than some.

Mal could come to like her well enough despite his low favor for whoring, once he knew her; sure he could. Especially if she could shoot half as well and cool as she stared into the eye of that gun in her face.

And if not, well, Jayne would just worry about that later.

He mostly wanted to get this out before she said no, or worse, laughed at him. “They ain’t a bad lot to travel with.” He shrugged and added, “Mostly. I mean, there's a crazy girl and a tight-ass doc and all. But otherwise.”

Her eyes were wide on him, wide and dark. “And you?”

Jayne felt those bees starting to buzz again. “Guess I’m one of the bad ones.” She smiled at that, a close-to-her-real-smile, and the bees buzzed harder, closer. “But I... I could watch out for you, I guess. If you wanted.” Suddenly he couldn’t look at her, didn’t want to see how she might be looking back at him.

But then he couldn’t stand it any longer; Jayne shot her a quick glance and damned if it didn’t just happen to him again.

Jayne’s eyes took in all of her at once, saw her sitting slumped on that piece-of-gos se chair at this poor-ass excuse for a table, balancing her fear with her hope, in a threadbare skirt and faded sleeveless Blue Star Cola shirt from six ad campaigns back. And he saw how none of it could take hold of the colors she’d had set into her skin; colors that took and hid the ugly that touched it, hid it all. Up till now, anyway.

It scared him too much to name, how easily he saw her aboard Serenity, standing in the galley, moving through the walkways, sitting at the table, lying in his bunk. But if seeing her there was so damn easy, how could it be a bad thing?

Jayne felt something move in his chest and he was ready to rise and take the quickest exit out even if he had to make it himself. But he told himself sternly this wasn’t a gorram bullet, this wasn’t a rutting blade, so it wasn’t going to kill him, just suck it up and grow a pair; stay put and see what happened.

When he thought he might be able to make some halfway manly-sounding sound, he shrugged and said only, “Up to you.”

Shy turned her eyes up him and drew a deep, deep breath. “I’m in.” She reached for and found his hand.

Jayne felt her fingers shaking in his so he squeezed them a little.

She smiled for real now, shifting her grip in his hand. “So, pirate. What say--best nine of ten?”

“Did you pay that pissant to arm-wrestle me all night?” Jayne grinned.

But her face went sober again. “Mostly I paid to not arm-wrestle anyone else." Dark shadows moved in her eyes. “What did you pay for, Jayne?”

It was just too big a question to answer all at one time, full of bees and Shy with barge-skinners and fuel-jockeys, a question threaded through with the unlikely color of her hair, a question founded in the stories hard and soft painted on her skin.

So Jayne shrugged and told her the truth he had a handle on, “I wanted to see you got your money’s worth.”

That made her smile her old-friends smile again and Jayne truthfully hadn’t been aware how he liked it so much until he saw it back there on her face. “So come over here,” his voice--when did it get so thick? So gruff? “And let’s just see about that.”

Then he was drawing her close and then his hands were caught up in her wild hair and whatever remained awkward and hesitant between them quickly ignited into something as hungry and demanding as the fire coursing through Jayne’s veins.

The rest of the night passed kindly for them, measured by Jayne's hands wrapped up in the red tide of Shy's hair while she knelt between his thighs with bowed head making his breath hitch and catch. Measured by the ways Shy twisted and danced for him again, but on the point of Jayne's tongue this time. Measured by her arms around his neck, his hips between her legs, his name in her mouth. Measured by the look, feel and taste of her above and beneath and before him, all slick satin and tight velvet and smooth smoldering colors.

The night passed them measured by means other than the inexorable, irrevocable approach of morning, and that was kindest of all. *******************************

COMMENTS

Thursday, March 1, 2007 6:09 PM

BECKETT


Love it, I like the way you write Jayne.

Friday, March 2, 2007 12:12 AM

JANE0904


Wow. Can't wait for part two ...

Friday, March 2, 2007 4:14 AM

VERASAMUELS


Oooh, nice. More!!


Vera

Friday, March 2, 2007 7:19 PM

BLUEEYEDBRIGADIER


Oooh...Jayne's all smitten like! Now I GOTTA see how this pans out!

;D

BEB

Thursday, February 7, 2008 9:14 PM

BADKARMA00


This is great! Can't believe I haven't seen this before. I'm off to read part 2!


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