"Haste makes waste, Jayne. Take it easy with them boxes," Mal ordered as he checked out the double doors of the warehouse again.
Gritting his teeth, Jayne bit back a curse or two and kept right on moving just as fast. Time for them to get off this ball of rock before somebody done figured out that the crew were takin' what they'd bought instead of gettin' swindled by these nice folks.
"Haste implies speed, which is the antithesis of waste," River announced as she lifted her end of a crate of machine parts and helped Jayne carry it to the hauler.
"Fer once, I'm agreeing with the crazy girl," Jayne grunted as he set his end down and waited for River to set hers down so he could shove it into place.
"You go and drop one of them boxes and spill out them parts, and you'll see how much time you end up wasting chasin' widgets around on the floor," Mal pointed out. "Kaylee, we still quiet back there?" he called to the opposite side of the warehouse.
"Sure enough, Captain. Ain't nothing so much as twitchin' in the wind out my end," she agreed cheerfully. Cheerful. Sometimes Jayne didn't rightly understand that girl. Here they were risking their lives tryin' to steal the gou shi they'd paid for with their own ill-gotten gains, and she's still all cheerful.
River and Jayne grabbed the last box and were halfway to the hauler when River stopped, her head tilting to the side and her eyes losing focus.
"Shun-sheng duh gao-wahn," Jayne cursed. "She's feeling somethin' comin' at us," he hollered as he dropped his end of the box and pulled his weapon. Sure enough, the corner brace snapped and the end flopped open spilling bits out all over tarnation, but Jayne weren't rightly worried about it just now. "Let's go," he said as he headed for the hauler.
"The parts. I need the capacitors and slip gears!" Kaylee cried, turning her back on the door she was watching. Jayne opened his mouth to shout out, but men came charging through, one physically tackling Kaylee just because she happened to be in his way as he tried to storm the rest of 'em. Jayne fired on two attackers before Mal's voice shouted above the din.
"Hold your fire. Stop gorram firing, Jayne!"
Still half crouched behind the hauler where he'd taken cover, Jayne did stop. That didn't mean he lowered his gun none. The problem was that River was still standing in the middle of the room, looking about curiously. Ai-ya. Sometimes the sha gua were a real treat in battle, killing men right and left without batting an eye. Looked to be this weren't one of her good days because she wasn't even reacting to the guns pointed at her.
Kaylee were on the ground; one of Nad's men had a gun to her head, and there weren't no way Mal could get off a shot before she were dead. And Mal didn't have that much cover himself. He were all shoved in between the wall and a load of nuts stacked clear to the ceiling. Jayne had no idea if nuts in wooden crates would stop a bullet or not.
"Now then, no need for us to be unfriendly-like," Mal said slowly as he holstered his gun. "We're just pickin' the merchandise we already paid for."
"You were supposed to meet Nad at the tavern," one of the thugs said, a man with a neck like a tree truck and a badly scarred face. Jayne made sure to keep his weapon trained on that one because if he was going down, that bastard was going with him.
"Our merchandise was here," Mal pointed out with a shrug and then gave the goons, all seven of 'em a real friendly grin, even the one laying on the floor groaning in pain and bleeding from Jayne's bullet in his gut. "But we don't want any trouble, so we'll just leave this stuff here and go talk to Nad about delivery," he offered as he came out from behind his cover. Mal gave Jayne a real stern look, but there weren't no way in hell Jayne was steppin' out from behind cover. There were stupid and then there was being too stupid to deserve to breathe anymore. Jayne might be the one, but he sure weren't the other.
"Nad says it's too late. He doesn't do business with people who show such a lack of faith. He wants you off his moon," Scarface said.
Mal reached up and scratched his chin all thoughtful. "I don't suppose that message comes with a refund?" The question made several of the thugs laugh. River tilted her head in the other direction and Kaylee gasped as a pimple-faced thug with greasy hair jerked her to her feet. "I guess we'd best be going then." No one moved for a second, and when Kaylee tried to walk toward them, pimple-face grabbed her arm and put the gun to her back.
Scarface stepped forward. "Here's the problem. You've offended Nad. Around these parts, offending a man calls for restitution. So there's the question of a fee before you leave."
Mal nodded as though considering the man's words. "That's where we have a little problem. See, we're a little short after paying for those parts. So, you can consider the parts payment for any offense Nad might have taken." Mal's voice still sounded calm, but Jayne could see the way his fingers twitched and his body shifted just the slightest bit. The captain wanted to settle this with a gun, but with River and Kaylee in the middle, he weren't going to. Five years ago, Jayne would have called that foolishness, but he guessed he understood the captain's position well enough.
"We have a solution. Seems there's a pretty good ransom for your gunhand over to Higgins' moon." Scarface looked meaningfully to where Jayne crouched, and Jayne narrowed his eyes and barely avoided pulling the trigger on the chou wang ba dan.
"You want we should leave Jayne behind?" Kaylee asked, her voice all fulla distress and shock. Jayne glanced around the warehouse, figuring on angles of attack since he were the only one still having a weapon aimed in the right direction. When he caught Mal's eyes, he expected to see the man calculatin' the room. Instead it looked like Mal were calculatin' in Jayne's direction. In fact, it looked a lot like Mal were thinking on their offer mighty hard.
His guts turned to rock, but Jayne forced himself to look away from a reality that still hit him hard every time he done caught some glimpse of it. Mal might not believe in ever leaving crew behind, but Jayne weren't crew. He never would be. To save the women, he'd toss Jayne over in a heartbeat.
Part of Jayne figured he probably deserved that. His momma always had told him that a man harvested whatever he put in the ground, and Jayne had put some mighty foul seeds in the ground. Didn't mean it hurt him any less when that truth slapped him across the face.
River turned, putting her back to the thugs and studying Jayne's face with a bewildered expression, and there went the hope that she'd snap out of it and start actin' like a respectable thief and shoot the sons of bitches.
"Mal!" Kaylee wailed when the captain hesitated so long that even she could tell what he were thinking. Right, so Jayne either got traded away like a gorram slave or he went and did something stupid. It weren't like he hadn't been stupid before.
Targeting the tank sitting in the far corner, he squeezed off a shot and ducked a second before the fuel exploded in a fireball. Heat flashed across his skin and voices shouted. Coming out from behind his cover, Jayne dashed toward the fire and sent up prayers that he didn't reckon any god would listen to anyway. He shot the first two people he found stunned and sprawled on the floor. The third was Kaylee.
Pullin' her up by one arm, Jayne headed through the thick black smoke toward where he assumed the exit was. His lungs burned with every breath, and his legs ached like he'd been running for hours, but he kept staggering forward, dragging Kaylee with him. A shadow came out of the rolling smoke, and Jayne brought his arm up, his gun feeling as heavy as a dead preacher. If it'd been one of the thugs, he woulda been dead because he couldn't even focus through his watering eyes, but then River's face was right there, and she slipped herself under Kaylee's other arm as she pulled them slightly to the right. Following her lead, Jayne staggered out into the cold night air and collapsed to his knees.
"Zoe's coming," River promised as she ran hands over Kaylee's still figure. Jayne was too busy trying to hack up a lung to much care.
"She okay?" Mal asked as he knelt down next to Kaylee. River nodded. "Jayne, that were the single most stupid thing I've ever seen you do, and I've seen you do plenty of stupid."
"Seemed smarter than letting you sell me off," Jayne countered as he wiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand.
Mal didn't answer as his face lost all emotion. That were answer enough for Jayne.
He shrugged as if it didn't matter much to him either way. "Maybe you weren't planning on tradin' me to save yourself and the girls, but I know I'd trade you in to save my own hide in a second, so I figure you'd do the same." Jayne watched as Mal's guarded expression faded into the more familiar look of contempt he usually had when looking at Jayne.
"Don't ever try anything like this again. You get someone killed on my ship, and I'll put you out an airlock." Mal barked each word out, his anger clearly erasing any guilt he'd felt about having considered the deal.
Jayne nodded wearily without answer. Yep, he was pullin' in a whole harvest from those evil seeds he'd planted. It was just funny that he was makin' that harvest now when he was tryin' so hard to be something other than what he was. Sometimes he did think he'd be better off somewheres else, somewheres where it didn't make his gut ache when people hated him.
Kaylee stirred, her hand flopping on the ground as she struggled up to consciousness. For a second, Jayne reached out and touched the back of her hand with his fingertips. Then he got to his own feet unsteadily and walked to a tree where he could lean against the wood and watch the orange and red as the fire devoured the warehouse and wait for Zoe to come and collect them from one more job gone bad.
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