If you had told Jayne three years ago that he was going to enjoy taking care of Crazy Girl, he probably would have shot you and called it a mercy-kill. These days, though, his favorite moments were the ones that found her cross-legged or curled up or upside down in his bunk, and he was honestly a bit nervous about what that meant. He'd asked her once, early on (and none too politely), why she constantly broke in.
"Because you don't mind me being me. They just want her."
Whatever that meant.
About a year after that incident, River had rather abruptly and publicly announced that he would be taking her out for dinner. Like a date.
Simon and Mal had lost it, only calming down (well, a bit) when they were forced to confront the fact that Jayne knew jackshit about this plan. River had watched it all and laughed, the sound reminding Jayne of the wind chimes his Ma hung out front of the house when he'd been growing up. That comparison had forced him to realize a few things, namely that while he was most definitely confused, he had absolutely zero objections to River's proposal.
So they had become a thing. Sort of. Mal had let it slide for real after a brief 'chat' that had involved two threats of death, three threats of removing certain parts of his anatomy, and at least five more of general bodily harm. Simon still hadn't fully warmed up to the idea, but the rest of the crew, although showing some concern on River's behalf (which Jayne felt was a bit unfair, considering she could easily overpower him), had taken it in stride.
What Jayne was less sure of was where he stood in River's mind. Within a month of their arrangement, she had managed to almost entirely draw him out of the unfeeling-muscle persona he'd built around himself, infuriating him in the most endearing of ways. She had kissed him on more than one occasion, and he certainly hadn't minded, but he still couldn't figure out his place. Was she his girl?
He was certain that he liked that idea, but what did she think?
"Your thoughts are loud."
His head snapped up to see her standing above him as he reclined on his bed. When had she gotten inside? Gorram but she was quiet.
"Like a mouse," she nodded.
"Are you in my head, girl?"
"I told you: your thoughts are too loud. I would have to be deaf not to hear them."
"Uh-huh," he said, trying to think of a reply that would sound smart and drawing a blank.
"The girl has enough smarts for two. She is willing to share."
"Thanks," he rolled his eyes.
"Simple is not bad. Complex thoughts can be painful and she can lose herself in them, flying up and away. But you can bring her back."
"And how am I supposed to do that? I think your brother's fancy medicines can do more there."
"No," she glared, "Medicines only suppress. You have what she needs to stay grounded."
"And what's that?"
Jayne froze. It wasn't often that he was accused of caring.
"But you do care. You care so much and so purely. She appreciates that. I- I appreciate that."
Her brief stutter raised a question he had never thought to ask before, "River... what's diff'rent 'tween 'you' and 'her'?"
She paused, looking down at him with her mouth slightly open, as if she had never thought to explain, "She is just a girl. I am a girl and a weapon."
He thought back to her answer, all that time ago, "So... you spend your time here because the rest of them think the 'weapon' part is uncomfortable? And I don'?"
"Yes. They try to ignore the uncomfortable part, but they forget that it is me. You don't mind."
Jayne didn't quite know what to do with that information. His brain hurt from trying to fit it into the puzzle that made up the girl before him. Did that mean he was just the least-worst option? She tolerated him because he accepted her?
"Silly Jayne," she whispered, sitting down beside him. He gulped, bed-sharing being very new territory for them.
"She..." River stopped, frowning, "No, I don't 'tolerate' you."
"No. I love you."
Was it possible for a man to feel simultaneously winded and like breathing a sigh of relief? If it was, then that was certainly where Jayne was. The 'L' word was something he had avoided his entire life, but he couldn't deny that he'd been having to put real effort into that lately. To hear the cause of that admit her own love so openly was... well... something of a relief.
"I can hear your thoughts, remember?"
Jayne felt his face heat up, trying and failing to form words (which words? he didn't know).
"Don't worry," she said, laying a hand on his shoulder, "That means you don't have to say them out loud."
Her words struck him to his core. Sitting beside him was a pretty girl who could kill him without breaking a sweat (and didn't that do things to him), who loved him, and who wouldn't be upset by his inability to communicate emotions properly. What was he waiting for? Why had he allowed things to stay ambiguous this long? He just needed to figure out how to phrase it.
"Be my girl?" Wow. The poets would be using that one for ages.
"Of course. She already was, but I'm glad you know it now."
River hummed in thought, before curling into his side, "No."
Encircling her slight frame with his arms, Jayne sighed contently, before a thought came to him that made him tense.
River laughed, the sound as charming and nostalgic as ever, "Don't worry. I won't let Simon do that."