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Inara had never set foot in Jayne's quarters before, and never dreamed of a situation where she would possibly want to. Only years of training at maintaining a facade of scrupulous politeness kept her from lifting the hem of her skirt up off the floor. There was no telling what was down there.

"I have a proposition for you."

He grinned at her, and she could virtually see him flipping through his mental file of crude remarks. She bit down on her tongue and did her best not to glare too fiercely; she couldn't risk offending him, though he had no incentive to do her the same courtesy. "Not that kind of proposition. It's an offer of employment."

"I've got a job," he pointed out, waving his hand to indicate the little room as proof. "Did you run out of ways to piss Mal off by yourself, so now you're gonna try poaching his crew?"

"Believe me, if I was going to steal crew members, you wouldn't be my first choice."

"Yeah, you'd start with Kaylee," he said, and this look couldn't be called anything but a leer. She bit her tongue again, said a meditation at double-time, and reminded herself that this was Jayne's version of gentle teasing and that it probably wasn't his fault that he'd been raised by wolves and savages.

"I just want to borrow you from Mal," she said, trying to find anywhere in the bunk to rest her eyes that wasn't a weapon, a dirty picture, or Jayne himself. "One evening's work."

"What sorta work?" he asked, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees and studying her with open, cheerful curiosity. "Nothing weird or kinky, right?"

"Why, do you have some sort of moral scruples?"

"No, but the rates change," he said calmly. "I don't get up out of my bunk for free, Nara, just like you don't get into yours for less than a certain amount. Same thing."

"Not exactly," she said, rolling her eyes, "but don't worry, you'll be adequately compensated for your time and trouble."

He produced a knife and a polishing cloth from beneath his pillow. "So what's the job?"

"I've been hired by Sir Niles Boothe on Deighton Colony, for two days. There's a ball on the first evening, and it's the custom on Deighton for unmarried women to bring their own bodyguards. Mal's plans for petty larceny don't start until the next day, so--"

"Oh, bodyguarding?" Jayne cut her off with a wave of the knife. "Why didn't you say so? Bodyguarding's easy money. Course I'll do it."

"Oh." She stared at him for a moment while he polished happily away. "Wonderful. It is...a rather formal party..." She gestured as delicately as she could at the stained t-shirt and torn trousers he was wearing. "You do have something appropriate to wear, don't you?

He paused and looked at her with patient disgust. "Told you, Inara, I've done this before. Don't worry about me none."

"All right." She turned to the ladder.

"Wait." He scowled at the knife and reached for a bottle of oil. "What'll security be like at this thing? How armed am I allowed to be? And how armed do I need to be? This guy got enemies? How do folks on Deighton think on Companions?" He glanced up when she didn't answer. "Gotta know this stuff to do my job, Inara."

"Of course. I'll wave Niles tonight and let you know." She reached for the ladder and stopped again. "Oh. And what kind of a cut do you expect?"

"One night as a bodyguard? That's a flat rate." He held the knife up to the light and quoted a figure. She countered with half that. He scratched behind his ear with the blade and stared blankly at her until she upped it to three-quarters.

"Pleasure doing business with you, Nara," he said with a grin, the knife vanishing into some hidden sheath. The smile meant she'd most likely just cheated herself. "Not as much as this fancy-pants customer's getting, of course, but good enough for a simple man like me."

She hurried up the ladder and back to her shuttle. It was going to be a miracle if she got through the party without killing her own bodyguard.
***
"I have to admit, I'm impressed." Something from the category of "things she thought she'd never say to Jayne," certainly. But it was the truth. From somewhere in that bunk he'd produced trousers and a jacket of a vaguely military cut in a smooth, dark gray. He had a gun on one hip, a knife at the other, and if there were other weapons about his person, they were well-hidden. He'd even parted his hair on the side and slicked it down neatly. He was entirely presentable. Respectable, even.

"You don't look half bad yourself." He looked her from head to toe, lingering as expected over the low-cut bodice of her yellow dress. "Guess that's sort of a side benefit for me, huh?"

"If you spend too much time looking, I'll go on the clock and take it out of your fee," she laughed, tucking her hair back behind her ear as Sir Niles' shuttle stopped outside the banquet hall. He gave her a surprisingly charming grin in reply, then grabbed her shoulder when she tried to stand. She cut off her protest half-spoken as he slipped around her and looked out the door, then stepped out and studied the crowd on the sidewalk. He turned back, met her eyes, and nodded, holding out his hand to help her step down.

Apparently he took this job seriously. All right, then, let him earn his money.

They met up with Sir Niles inside. He greeted Inara with effusive compliments, which she returned, and a silver necklace, which she accepted gracefully. Jayne stood the precise, proper one stride behind her, silent but a presence that could not be ignored. She was more grateful than she expected for that-- mostly because she wasn't certain why Niles felt he needed to have three hulking man-beasts a pace behind him.

Niles escorted her into the ballroom, with Jayne and the Beasts sorting out walking arrangements as they moved. Inside, there was the usual whirlwind of dazzling decor and far too many introductions. Still, the champagne was excellent, as was the music, and she found herself enjoying an entirely satisfactory evening.

Until a grim-faced man came up and whispered urgently in the ear of Beast Number One, who frowned at him and repeated the message to Beast Number Two, who stepped forward and relayed it to Niles. Beast Number Three was jostling Jayne for elbow room and missed the entire exchange, which left Inara to judge him as the low Beast on the totem pole.

Niles kissed her hand, muttered apologies, and vanished, Beasts in tow, leaving her standing at the edge of the dance floor with Jayne and her bewilderment.

"Something up?" Jayne asked quietly, moving to her side. His face was still a perfect, impassive mask, his hands clasped behind his back, but she could sense the tension in his body clicking up to a more attuned level. More ready for a fight.

"He's been called away to a sudden meeting," she said, calling up her best smile as a cluster of minor nobodies walked by. "He's left me here to entertain myself for a bit, but he'll be back shortly."

"You know he's a mob boss, right? He's probably watching his boys break somebody's kneecaps."

She turned to face him, shock making her forget the polite fiction that he didn't actually exist. "He is not a mob boss," she hissed. "He's a businessman and a community leader."

"Who beats the shit out of people who don't do things his way," he said flatly. He glanced over her shoulder. "Company."

She put her smile back on and turned to face one of Niles' fellow business leaders, flanked by two man-beasts of his own.

"Well," he said with an oily smile. "I see Boothe is bringing in off-world whores now. I must confess I'm a bit hurt-- the ones I find domestically aren't good enough for him anymore?"

Inara turned to walk away, but he grabbed her arm and yanked her close, running his other hand down her body like he was evaluating a cut of meat. "Certainly doesn't feel any different than the locals."

She didn't see Jayne move, but she was rather grateful that his punch dropped the man on the spot, instead of bloodying his lip and leading to some sort of absurd duel. Of course, then the guard-beasts came awake, and security got involved, and the whole party wound up ruined, but one couldn't have everything...
***
"Jayne," Inara said with helpless frustration and amusement as Niles Boothe's shuttle carried them both back to Serenity. After that disaster, Niles paid off the two days and sent her back without fulfilling her half of the contract. His choice, and she wasn't arguing; she had other things on her mind. "The whole reason I asked you to do this instead of Mal was because I thought I could trust you not to start any fights over my honor."

"I'm your bodyguard, ain't I? He put his hands on you, so I was doing my job. Guarding your body." He shifted the cold pack against his face. "Sides, he was getting rough and talking ugly. That ain't no way to treat a lady."

"A lady?" She felt her eyebrows virtually fly up into her hair. "You think I'm a lady?"

He gave her a puzzled look. "Course you're a lady. Got all those fancy clothes and manners and you know just how to talk to people, and how to move like you're dancing. You're all a lady, every inch of you."

"Jayne, perhaps you haven't noticed, but I'm a whore." He shrugged. "You don't find the two to be mutually exclusive?"

"Whorin's what you do. A lady's who you are. How you act." He shrugged again and shifted the cold pack with a little smile that was almost shy. "Hell, Nara, I ain't Mal. I could hardly look down on somebody just because the 'verse didn't give 'em nothing but their body to sell. That's all the 'verse gave me."

"Are you saying that you think you and I are similar, in what we do?" This conversation was also from the file of "things she'd never expected to happen." If they got back to the ship and found Mal acting like a human being, she was retiring to a convent on the spot.

"I figure we're both selling our skills and bodies to get by." He shifted the pack over a sensitive spot and hissed in pain. "You don't get beat up as much, though."

"I suppose not," she agreed. "Jayne, I think I've been underestimating you all this time."

He grinned at her. "Well, don't get me wrong, that don't mean I haven't thought about bending you over the table and showing you what a man can do even if he don't have a fancy title and credits in the bank."

She laughed. "Well, I would hope you feel that way, or I'd be out of business." She stood and smoothed her skirts, then stepped close to him and took his face in her hands. She pressed her lips to his in a long, gentle kiss. He wouldn't know it, but it was the kiss on Companion gave another when they met, a recognition of equals.

She stepped back and folded her hands properly in front of her. "Thank you, Jayne."

He grinned again, surprise showing clearly in his visible eye. "Hell, thank you, Nara. I hope you don't think that means I ain't claiming my full fee, though."

She reached out to pat his cheek fondly. "One professional to another, I would never make that mistake."

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