Author owns no rights what-so-ever to Firefly, nor the universe in which it lives. He writes solely for his own amusement. It’s okay not to sue him.
FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF FF
“How’d you do that?”
River looked up to see Jayne looking at her with interest. They had just gotten back from a job that had gone a little south. Nothing bad had happened to any of them, and they had gotten their money, but there had been a tussle.
“Do what?” she asked, already knowing.
“Flip that guy like that,” Jayne replied. “I’da bet a month’s pay ya couldn’t o’ done it, but ya made it look easy. He was three times yer size, nearly.”
“Leverage,” she shrugged.
“Uh-uh,” Jayne shook his head, walking over to where she was, standing by the mule. “I ain’t mebbe quite so dumb as I look. You ain’t got the size nor the strength to ‘leverage’ someone that big. Not without somethin’ else.”
“It’s just a technique,” River shrugged again, enjoying the game.
“Teach me,” Jayne surprised her. “Learn me how ta do that.” She looked at him, eye brows arched.
“Me? Teach big, bad, Jayne Cobb something? Why, how could I know something you don’t?”
“You know plenty I don’t,” Jayne smirked. “But I ain’t carin’ ‘bout all of it. I want ya ta teach me how ya fight like that.”
“Cause if you can do that much damage at your size, I oughta be able to do more,” he replied frankly. She considered him for a moment, then smiled.
“And how would you pay for these. . .lessons?” she inquired.
“Pay, huh?” Jayne grunted. “I dunno. Maybe we can trade it out, somehow,” he suggested.
“Please,” River rolled her eyes.
“I don’t mean like that,” Jayne snapped. “I’d rather bed a mongoose. Be safer. There’s things I can teach you, though, I bet. Or help ya with.”
River regarded him steadily, thinking.
“I would. . .I would like to be bigger,” she said finally.
“Bigger?” Jayne was stumped on that one. “I can’t make you no bigger, girl. That ain’t fair.” He almost whined.
“Not taller,” River clarified. “Bigger. Stronger.” His eyes lit up at that.
“And I would like to know more about guns. Know them like you do,” she added, seeing his confusion.
“You can shoot ‘bout as well as I can,” he admitted grudgingly.
“I do not require shooting instruction,” River shook her head. “I require knowledge of firearms. Something you have in abundance, and I do not.”
“I can do that,” Jayne said after a minute, rubbing his chin. “I can set ya up a trainin’ program, on the weights and what not. Help ya with that. Spot for ya. And I can teach ya ‘bout guns. How to strip’em, work on’em, and the like. That what ya have in mind?”
“And you’ll teach me all them shiny tricks o’ yers?” he asked.
“What I can,” she agreed. “We have an accord?”
“A what?” he frowned.
“An agreement, apeman,” River rolled her eyes. “A trade. A deal.”
“Oh. Yeah,” he nodded. “A deal.” He held his hand out, and she surprised them both by taking it.
“We’ll start tomorrow.”
“Gorramit, I wasn’t ready!” Jayne complained as he levered himself off the deck of the cargo bay. River stood there, foot tapping the floor with impatience.
“This is the point, Man Called Jayne,” River told him. “Strike when and how the opponent doesn’t suspect. Or ‘isn’t ready’ as you put it. Much of what I do depends upon stealth, deception, and surprise.” Jayne frowned at that.
“Does that mean it won’t work fer me?” he asked. “I mean, mostly people ‘spect me to strike at some point. ‘s my job,” he added with a shrug. River considered that.
“People expect you to strike like an ape man,” she pointed out. “Brute force, not finesse. While the fact that you may attack will not, of itself, be a surprise, how you do so, will.” Jayne considered that, an nodded.
“Makes sense,” he admitted. “All right, we done spent a good hour at this, and at the weights. My turn,” he waved. “Let’s go to the galley.” The two of them headed back that way.
Their ‘lessons’ to each other had been going for a month now, nearly every day. Days when there were jobs they usually skipped, and did little the day before, in case one or the other should be hurt.
“What will we do today?” River asked.
“I gotta rifle I grabbed off that hundan at Boras. Week ‘fore last?” he looked at her, and she nodded, remembering.
“Somethin’s wrong with it,” he told her. “You gonna see can you figure out what it is.”
“You broke a rifle so I could look for faults?” River looked at him.
“No, I didn’t,” Jayne snorted. “Rifle ain’t a bad one, idiot just didn’t take care of it. Fact is, it’s a fine weapon. Ain’t same as Vera, course,” he added hastily. “Still, mighty fine piece. But the bolt don’t wanna cycle right.” He looked at her.
“You’re gonna tell me why, and then fix it. I’ma watch.”
River took a seat at the table as Jayne laid the weapon out. River had to agree, the rifle was a very fine looking weapon.
“Mosavage, .375 Magnum,” she informed him. “Semi-automatic rifle with detachable box magazine. Gas operated blowback system with a Traynor optics system. Set up indicates this rifle has been used, or at least was planned for use, as a sniper’s weapon.”
“That’s right,” Jayne grinned broadly. “Fine gun. Not a high dollar one, but then that’s always been their claim ta fame. High quality, affordable, and dependable. Now, what’s the problem?”
The two were still sitting there, River using a small file on the extractor, when Mal wandered in.
“What’s all this, then?” he asked, looking at the rifle. “Broke?”
“Not anymore,” River smiled in triumph. She quickly and efficiently re-assembled therifle, Mal noting that Jayne was watching her closely. River worked the bolt, and the action flowed smooth as glass.
“Fixed,” she said simply, holding the rifle out to Jayne. He took it, saying nothing, and inspected it closely, working the action, testing the trigger. Finally he nodded, a grunt of appreciation adding emphasis.
“Damn good job,” he told her honestly, then handed it back to her. River took it, looking surprised.
“She. . .I, did something wrong?” Jayne shook his head.
“Not a gorram thing I can see,” he told her. “You fixed it, it’s yours.” Mal looked as if he had seen a ghost.
“Huh?” he stammered, though River was grinning ear to ear. Jayne looked at him.
“I’m teachin’ her to ‘smith a little. She took a gun weren’t worth nothin’ but a paper weight, and made it work. Her’s now.”
“Thank you, Man Called Jayne,” River told him quietly.
“Just don’t shoot me with it,” was all Jayne said. “And, since you did all the work, you can clean your mess up,” he added with a grin. “And don’t be takin’ that thing nowhere,” he pointed to the rifle, “until we get the chance to make sure she’s gonna shoot right. Dong ma?”
“She understands and comprehends,” River nodded.
“If that means you won’t, then we’re shiny,” Jayne nodded. Gathering his tools, he started to his bunk. Mal trailed along.
“What’s all this about?” he asked. Jayne shrugged.
“Tryin’ ta git girlie ta teach me them fancy fightin’ tricks she uses,” he admitted. “Worked out a trade. She teaches me what I wanna know, I teach her what she wants ta know.”
“And what does she wanna know?” Mal asked warily.
“Well, she wants to be bigger, and she wants to learn guns,” Jayne told him. “By bigger she means stronger. Took me a minute ta git that, but what she wants is weight training.”
“You’re lettin’ her work out with ya?” Mal goggled.
“Hell no,” Jayne snorted. “Can’t trust her not to drop the barbell on my neck, or slice me while I’m under it. No, I help her with her workout, that’s all. Spot for her, make sure her form’s okay. And make sure she don’t overdo it.”
“And that rifle?” Mal was genuinely interested. He’d never ever heard Jayne talk about giving away a gun. Although he did try to trade Vera for Saffron. Mal never had convinced himself that he did the right thing not taking that trade.
“It was broke,” Jayne shrugged. “No better way for her to learn.”
“And then givin’ it to her?” Mal pressed. This was something new. He wanted to understand.
“Well, she ain’t got a rifle,” Jayne told him. “She’s a good shot Mal. She needs a rifle that’s hers, ‘stead o’ usin’ one outta that arm’ry when she needs it. That one? She’ll get it dialed in, and then it’ll shoot where and how she wants, whenever she wants. She can make long, tough shots, and be more apt to hit where she needs to.” Mal nodded, knowing that was a good idea.
“And what’re you gettin’ outta this?” Mal asked with an almost frown.
“Told ya,” Jayne opened his hatch. “She’s teachin’ me them fancy fightin’ ways o’ hers. Least she’s tryin’,” he added with a sigh.
“Not goin’ so well?” Mal asked.
“Well, I’m learnin’ a bit,” Jayne admitted. “And we ain’t been at it long, mebbe a month or so. Girl says it takes a long time to learn some stuff. And there’s a lotta exercise involved. Stretchin’ and what not.” He looked at Mal.
“One thing we got in the Black is time,” he shrugged. “I’ll get it eventually, long as she don’t get mad and quit.”
“My days of underestimatin’ you are comin’ to an end, Jayne,” Mal shook his head. “Definitely comin’ to an end,” he repeated as he walked off. Jayne watched him go, wondering what that was all about. Then he shrugged it off, and descended into his bunk.
Simon just happened to walk into the cargo bay as Jayne deftly blocked a kick River threw at him, then grabbed her extended leg, using it to control her as he swept her other leg out from under her.
“What the hell are you doing to my sister!” he screamed. Jayne looked up at him, then back to River. Just in time to see her foot coming at his head.
“Gorramit!” Jayne swore, rubbing his head. “That wasn’t fair!” he yelled.
“Nothing fair about it,” River agreed, rolling to her feet.
“River are you alright?” Simon ran to her side. “If you hurt her I’ll. . . .” he started.
“Oh, Simon be quiet!” River snapped, and Simon’s mouth closed audibly. She looked at Jayne.
“That was good, until you allowed ge ge to distract you,” she admitted, eyeing Jayne. “Very good, up til then” she added.
“I still say that weren’t fair,” Jayne muttered. “Him runnin’ in here screeching like a cat with ‘is bal. . .with his tail in a hay baler.” River laughed.
“Cannot allow yourself to be distracted,” River chastised, then turned to her brother.
“There is some reason you felt compelled to interrupt our training?” she demanded.
“T. . .training?” Simon repeated, face reddening.
“Yes, training,” she nodded. “I am teaching ape man to fight better, and he is teaching me to be stronger, and increasing my knowledge of firearms.”
“You shoot better than he does!” Simon sputtered.
“Hey!” Jayne objected, but fell quiet when River scowled at him.
“I do not shoot as well as he does in all things,” she grudgingly admitted, “nor do I have his intimate knowledge of the mechanical nature of said arms. He is teaching me those things. In return, I share martial arts training with him. A trade.”
“Really?” Simon looked more interested now than mad. He looked at Jayne. “How’s that working out for you?” he asked.
“Were workin’ fine today, til you showed up,” Jayne muttered.
“And you?” he asked River. Rather than reply, River rolled up her sleeve, displaying a surprising mass of muscle on her upper arm.
“Huh,” Simon paused.
“I don’t suppose you two would be interested in a third, would you?”
Inara walked out onto the catwalk over looking the cargo bay, and froze.
Beneath her, Simon and Jayne were circling each other like two wolves, as River lay on the floor between them. Her heart caught in her throat, she started for the com. Before she could reach it, she heard River’s voice.
“No, no, no, NO! That is not what I showed you!” Inara walked back to the catwalk to see Jayne and Simon now standing beside each other, with River chastising them both.
“It most certainly was!” Simon didn’t quite yell back. River looked at Jayne, who looked down at the deck.
“Nah, it wasn’t,” he admitted. “We did it wrong.”
“What? How?” Simon spluttered. He’d expected Jayne to back him up. Especially against River.
“She done tol’ us, twice, not to move ‘til we was ready to do somethin’,” he sighed. “We didn’t listen.”
“No, you didn’t,” River pressed. “Superfluous movement allows your enemy the chance to study how you move, and leaves you vulnerable to attack.” She sighed with frustration.
“I can almost forgive Simon. Almost,” she emphasized, as Simon started to smile.
“But Jayne, we’ve been doing this nearly two months. You knew better, even if he did not. Why?”
“Cause he did,” Jayne shrugged. “He was movin’, and he’s more agile’n I am, and he can kick ‘bout as good as you, and I wanted to keep him at reach ‘til I was ready.” River studied him hard for a moment, then nodded.
“That is not unsound,” she admitted, grudgingly. “Wrong, still, at the base, but logical. Again,” she ordered. By this time Inara had come down to the bay. Seeing her, the other three stopped.
“What’s going on here?” she asked, looking from one to the other.
“Training,” River said simply. “Not good training, mind you,” she glared at her two students, “but training none-the-less.” Inara noticed that both Jayne and Simon looked put out by that, but said nothing.
“What kind of training?” Inara asked. All were dressed in work out clothes, wringing with sweat.
“She’s teaching us to fight like she does,” Simon told her. “Jayne is teaching River and I more about guns, and helping us develop better strength. I’m teaching them both about nutrition, and . . .well, and what parts of the body can be hurt the easiest,” he added, a bit shamefaced.
“Simon that has to violate almost every part of your oath!” Inara exclaimed.
“It might,” Jayne nodded. “But that oath he took ain’t no death pact, neither. He needs tolearn things to defend hisself, and so do we. All o’ us got somethin’ to learn from the others.”
Inara looked dumbfounded. Had Jayne just made a rational argument? Alone?
“And what are you teaching them?” she wanted to know.
“Like he said,” Jayne pointed at Simon. “I’m teachin’em ‘bout guns, and helpin’em get stronger.”
“River’s already a better shot than you are!” Inara exclaimed.
“Gorramit, I’m tired o’ hearin’ that!” Jayne didn’t yell, but his face was red.
“I am not the marksman he is,” River shook her head, also ‘tired’ of explaining. “Better in some ways, perhaps, but not the gunman that Jayne is. Nor do I have his knowledge of firearms. Well, I do know more, now, than before,” she added. “As Simon pointed out, this arrangement is beneficial for all. Each one brings a bargaining chip to the table.”
“A trade, then?” Inara asked. “You’re trading information for other information?”
“Yes,” Simon nodded. He didn’t add that both he and River were helping Jayne learn to read and write better. That was personal. And Jayne had asked them not to share.
“And it’s working?” Inara asked. She looked at River, who was definitely not looking ‘waifish’ any longer. Simon had filled out quite a bit as well, she noted.
“Pretty well, so far,” Jayne shrugged. “Just, we ain’t learnin’ fast as she is, is all.”
“I beg your pardon,” Simon said with a sniff, but the grin on his face belied his words.
“Well, then I ain’t,” Jayne chuckled. “But I ain’t doin’ all that bad. Am I?” This to River, who looked him up and down for a moment.
“No, not bad at all,” she finally admitted, after letting him stew for a moment. “Actually, all of us are doing quite well.”
Inara studied the three of them for a minute, noticing how at ease they were. She looked again at River, noticing the hardness of her body. River had always been slender, and graceful, but there was a physical hardness to her now that complimented her mental strength. And, Inara decided, it was not an unattractive look for her.
She looked at the three of them again, in turn, and then smiled.
“Would you be interested in expanding your knowledge?”
“Jayne, that’s not going to work,” Simon said quietly.
“How d’you know?” Jayne demanded, looking up from where he was mixing some concoction that Inara had showed them.
“Too much of the soda,” Simon almost whispered. “It won’t allow the. . . .”
“Simon,” Inara frowned. “I assume you aren’t asking Jayne for help with a simple chemistry problem.” Both men looked up at her, like students caught cheating in class.
“I was actually trying to help him,” Simon told her. Looking and acting very much like a student caught cheating.
“Don’t need no help,” Jayne frowned, being bull headed as usual. “I got this.”
“No, you don’t,” Inara sighed, looking at the materials in front of him. “Jayne, the idea is to use the soda to cancel the bitterness of the root,” she explained patiently. “But it has to be just right. If you use too much, it can degrade, or even nullify, the root extract.”
“It won’t work,” River added helpfully. Jayne looked down.
“Oh.” He looked at Simon, who was almost not smirking. Almost.
“I can’t do this,” Jayne sighed, pushing back from the table. “I. . .I ain’t got the learnin’ for it, I reckon.”
“Jayne, you can do this,” Inara told him. “It’s no different than taking your guns apart, and then reassembling them. Once you learn what goes where, and with what, it will become second nature to you. And this extract can be found on almost every planet and moon in the ‘verse.”
“But I keep screwin’ up,” Jayne complained. “I’m just wastin’ yer time, ‘Nara, and yer stuff.”
“And am I ‘wastin’ yer time’, Jayne, when you have to show me over and over again how to put a gun back together?” Jayne shook his head.
“Ain’t the same thing. . . .”
“It’s exactly the same,” River argued. She, of course, had no trouble at all, nor did Simon. Not with this.
“She’s right, you know,” Simon put his oar in. “You take time to teach us the same way we do you. You just have to keep at it.”
Jayne looked at them in turn, seeing that each one was serious. Sighing again, he pulled himself back to the table.
“All right,” he grumbled. “I reckon I can start over.”
“Not today,” Inara smiled. “By my watch, it’s time for weights and sparring.” Everyone helped put away their materials, and then trouped to the cargo bay. No one noticed Zoe observing them from the doorway. She didn’t know what the other four were up to, but she was determined to find out. When they were gone, she followed them quietly to the cargo bay.
Where she was amazed to see everyone stripping down to sweats, including Inara. River seemed to take charge at that point.
“Jayne, you and Simon will work on the same exercise I gave you yesterday.” The two men nodded, and went to pull mats out of storage.
“Inara, you and I will continue to get you caught up with them.” She leaned closer. “You’re better than either, so it shouldn’t take long,” she winked. Inara grinned but said nothing.
Soon, all four where working hard, throwing each other around the bay. She was about to leave, when Kaylee came walking out.
The cheery mechanic stopped short, seeing the four of them.
“Whatcha’ll doin’?” she asked carefully. The four of them stopped cold. Well, three of them. Jayne had caught Simon’s leg in the air, and when he released it, the doctor fell to the floor.
“Hey!” Simon groused, getting to his feet. “That wasn’t right.”
“Pansy,” Jayne muttered.
“Well? Anybody gonna tell me what ya’ll are up to?” Kaylee asked.
“There’s another hour lost,” Jayne sat down as River started to explain. She turned to look at Jayne and Simon.
“I see no reason why the two of you can’t continue,” she said pointedly. Simon was about to object, when Jayne stopped him.
“Don’t,” he raised a hand. “She’ll just get all pissy, and start off on one o’ them tears o’ her’s ‘bout efficiency and the like.”
“I do not get pissy,” River snapped, and both men looked agog at the fact that she had said it. Simon finally looked at Jayne accusingly.
“You are a bad influence on my sister.”
“Kaylee this thing doesn’t fit!” Simon exclaimed, almost throwing the part to the floor. The acidic look on the mechanic’s face kept him from committing that engine room sacrilege, however.
“Defies logic,” River agreed, still angry at not having figured it out.
“Kaylee, dear, are you sure you gave us the right parts?” Inara added, her own frustration showing.
“I got it!” Jayne crowed. The other three looked at him in disgust. He sneered back, glad to finally be outdoing them in something.
“Good job, Jayne!” Kaylee smiled, looking at the hydraulic arm Jayne had managed to reassemble. No one else had managed. Not even River.
“Told ya there was a trick to it,” she informed the rest. “And yes, Simon, it does fit!” Jayne couldn’t help but laugh at that as his mind went south. Kaylee’s glare convinced him to try and turn it into a cough. She looked back at the others.
“Look here,” she told them, taking the arm she had used to demonstrate apart. “This ring has to go in first, then the bearin’, and then, then Simon, you put the valve in. With the valve lined up on the hose fittin’. Not facin’ in where it can’t work!”
Simon wisely kept shut. Jayne didn’t even make a crack about the ‘hose fittin’. River looked, and suddenly she grinned. Her hands flew over the arm in front of her, and seconds later, the arm was reassembled.
“Yeah! That’s it River!” Kaylee exclaimed. River smirked at her brother.
“I’m sure you can get private instruction on your ‘hose fittin’ later,” she snarked, which made both Simon and Kaylee turn red. Jayne had another coughing fit, and even Inara had to hide a grin.
“Well, try it again,” Kaylee ordered. “Ain’t no reason for you two ta look so proud, neither,” she told River, and then Jayne. “Once don’t mean nothin’. Do it again.”
“Gorramit,” Jayne mumbled, but went to work. River just looked offended. But she, too, went back to work.
“Where the hell is my gorram crew?” Mal muttered, as he walked the ship. He checked every bunk, the infirmary, the cargo bay, even the passenger dorms. No one. He was about to barge into Inara’s shuttle when he saw Zoe looking, grinning at him.
“Zoe, where the hell is every body?” he demanded.
“Well, sir, if they’re sticking to their ‘schedule’ today, they should be in the engine room right about now.”
“Schedule?” Mal looked at her. “Engine room? What schedule?”
“Prob’ly best you see it for yourself, sir,” Zoe told him. Motioning for him to follow, she started toward the engine room.
“Quiet now,” she ordered. “Don’t want to interrupt.”
A look of bewilderment on his face, Mal followed.
“See? I told ya it would work,” Kaylee looked at Simon in triumph.
“There go the private lessons,” River teased. “Performed too well, won’t get to stay after class with teacher. Pity.” Simon’s ears reddened as he glared at his sister.
“River, if you don’t. . . .”
“Okay, reckon that’s enough for today,” Kaylee announced. “Reckon it’s Jayne’s turn.” Jayne nodded, and turned to pick up a duffel bag. He sat four shotguns from the armory on the table, and one of his own that matched them.
“Okay, this here is a Remson 12 gauge shotgun. Not a bad piece o’ machinery, but it’s got one flaw. Been aimin’ ta fix the one’s Mal keeps in the arm’ry, but glad I didn’t now. Leaves one each for ya ta work on.”
“‘Fore I get inta the problem, let’s take’em apart, and then reassemble’em. First, unscrew the mag cap, like this. Watch out that you don’t let the spring shoot out. Might break. . . .”
Mal watched for at least fifteen minutes as Inara, Kaylee, Simon and River all followed Jayne’s instructions. Even Inara? He shook his head.
And he didn’t like seeing Kaylee with a gun at all. That wasn’t her job on this boat. Time to put a stop to this. As he moved forward, Zoe’s arm shot out.
“I wouldn’t,” she told him softly. “Watch.” Mal was about to tell his First Mate that he’d seen enough, but her glare cut him off. Reluctantly, he looked back.
“Jayne, this ring won’t come off,” Inara told him. The merc looked it over, and shook his head.
“Touch o’ rust, looks like,” he sighed. “That there’s my fault. Let me. . .here, you finish takin’ mine apart, and learning the parts, while I fix this. Won’t take long.” Inara handed the shotgun over, taking Jayne’s in exchange.
“This looks a bit different,” she said. Jayne nodded.
“Worked on it a bit, myself,” he replied. “Basically the same, though, inside. I’ll use it to show ya how I fixed mine, then all o’ you can see the difference ‘fore ya start. Make it easier.” All the time he was talking, he was working on the gun Inara had given him.
And Inara, during that time, was already taking apart the shotgun Jayne had handed her. Mal was frowning.
“Jayne’s lettin’ them use his guns?” he whispered. Zoe nodded, indicating the need for quiet. River smiled slightly, knowing the two were there, but said nothing.
Soon enough, Jayne was back to teaching, and the four of them were making ‘repairs’ to Mal’s shotguns.
Zoe motioned for Mal to follow her back to the galley. He reluctantly obeyed, still shaking his head in wonder.
It was meal time. Mal sat back, watching as his crew interacted with each other. There was no hostility, no disdain, no undercurrent of wrath or wrong. It was almost, Mal reflected, like sitting around a dinner table with family.
It made his teeth hurt.
This just was not the way his ship normally ran. That made him edgy. New was bad. Different was worse. It set him on edge, like an itch he couldn’t scratch.
And he couldn’t figure out why. Hell, this was what he’d always wanted, really. His ship was running better in the last three months than it had since he’d owned it. They’d made money on their last four jobs without a hitch.
He couldn’t stand it anymore.
It was a conspiracy. That’s what it was. There was a plot, of some kind, among his crew.
Yeah, that was it. He was sure of it.
Feeling better now that he had something to worry over, Mal dug into his supper with relish. Zoe looked at him from the corner of her eyes, and hid a smile at Mal’s discomfiture.
It was apparent that the fact that things were going smoothly between their crew members was worrying him. She knew there was no reason for it, but also knew he couldn’t help it.
She could. Having watched them for the last few months, Zoe had been able to see the gradual changes in all five of them. Inara was no longer so standoffish. Simon was no longer so. . .Simon.
River was more steady than she’d ever seen the girl. Jayne was nicer to everyone, even Simon. And Kaylee, while still her carefree, happy self, seemed much more confident.
To Zoe’s way of thinking, all of this was for the better. She knew that Mal saw it that way, when he wasn’t obsessing over the fact that the five of them had done all this without him. Zoe had to hide a grin at that thought. Maybe, just maybe, that was what was bothering him.
He felt left out.
Time to make him ante up, she decided.
“So how is all the ‘training’ coming along?” Zoe asked. That brought the conversation around the table to a halt.
“We are doing well,” River acknowledged. The others were content for her to be the spokesperson of the group.
“I can see some of the differences even here,” Zoe nodded. It was true. The weight training, the nutritional supplements, and martial arts training had given them all a harder, leaner, healthier look. Even Jayne looked more formidable, and she hadn’t thought that possible.
“I was thinking I might join you,” Zoe went on, ignoring the startled peep from Mal’s direction. The others looked at her, then at each other, then, finally at River. River frowned, wondering how they all managed to look her way at once. Sighing, she turned to Zoe.
“What do you have to offer?” she asked. Zoe was taken aback by the question.
“Offer? Like how?”
“We all,” River waved to the table, “offer something to the others. Each person teaches all of the others something they do not know. Or wish to know more of. What would you bring to that arrangement?”
Zoe was dumbfounded. She looked at the others, seeing if they were joking. One look at their faces assured her they were not. All were listening intently to find out what Zoe could offer.
She looked at Mal, only to see him smirking back at her. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands in a steeple under his chin.
“Yeah, Zoe,” he smarmed. “What do you have to trade?” Zoe looked around for a moment, then suddenly grinned.
“I got the combination to the Captain’s bunk,” she offered. Several ears perked at that.
“Zoe,” Mal warned.
“Oh, and a capture o’ him in that flowery bonnet and dress, from when he was married to Jayne,” Zoe added, getting into the roll, now.
“Gorramit, Zoe,” Mal sputtered.
“And then there was the time when we was on Harvest, back during the war, and he. . . .”