Exaggeration and Blank Verse
In Self-Defense
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Simon scowled, running the weaver over Kaylee's hand again. "It's absolutely ridiculous."

"Simon, it's fine." She pulled her hand away and looked down at it, flexing her fingers. "See? All healed up. Not even a scratch left."

"I don't see why there needed to be a scratch in the first place." He returned the device to its drawer with a little more force than strictly necessary.

"Captain thinks I need to learn how to take care of myself a little better. Learn some self-defense." She shrugged. "And he's right."

"Of course, being able to defend yourself out here is only logical, but I don't see why he can't teach you, or Zoe..." Simon slammed the drawer. "Why does it have to be..."

Jayne appeared in the doorway, looking past Simon to glare at Kaylee. "All patched up?"

She flexed her hand again. "Yeah."

"Then why are you still in here? Get back down to the bay. We ain't done."

Simon put a protective hand on Kaylee's shoulder. "Jayne, she's tired. Is there really any reason she can't take a break?"

Jayne gave him a look of absolute contempt. "Don't know what it's like on Osiris, Doctor, but out here people who take it into their minds to hurt little girls don't stop just because she says she's tired."

"Don't call me a little girl." Kaylee gently pushed Simon's hand off of her and got to her feet. She squared her shoulders and tipped her chin up defiantly, looking Jayne in the eye. "I'm ready."

He stared at her for a moment longer, then turned on his heel and walked out. She glared at his back, but she followed.
****
He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring down at her crumpled there on the floor of the cargo bay. "Kaylee, gorram it, you ain't ever gonna be able to take me out. The idea's to knock me aside long enough to get a weapon in your hand or get away. Dong ma?"

She dragged herself up to her knees and scowled. "Yeah."

"You've said that four times, and you still ain't taking the chance to grab a weapon when it's there." He didn't offer her a hand, just stood there glaring. Wo de ma, she hated the smug bastard.

"That's because I ain't seeing these magical weapons you keep talking about, Jayne." She ran her hands through her hair, pushing it back behind her ears, and carefully got to her feet. Her bruises were going to have bruises by the time this was over.

He rolled his eyes and started walking around the bay, pointing to objects. "Wrench. That's a damn good weapon. Can of pressurized air- in someone's eyes? Knock 'em flat on their ass long enough to launch a gorram shuttle. Radio- throw it at somebody's head, that's a weapon. That folding chair of yours-"

"All right, all right, I get it." She realized she was digging her nails into her palms out of sheer frustration, and forced herself to relax. "I guess I just don't see the world the same way you do."

"That's why we're here." He pulled a small knife from his belt, still in its sheath, and tossed it to her. "No, don't take it out, I ain't looking to actually get stabbed. We'll see how you do with that." He shook his head, stretching his arms out behind him until his shoulders cracked. "Early came at you in the engine room. Everything in the engine room's a ruttin' weapon. But if you can't see that yet, guess you'd better have a good blade at hand."

She stared down at it in horror. "Jayne, I could never stick this in someone!"

He moved suddenly, too fast, and she found herself on the floor again, his knee planted in the middle of her chest and another sheathed knife at her throat. "Well, the bad guys ain't gonna do you the same courtesy, Kaylee."

She stared into his face, just a few inches away from her own, and felt tears creeping up into her eyes. His face didn't soften, not even a little bit, but this time he offered her a hand when he stood back up.

She rubbed at her tailbone once she was on her feet, blinking the tears back as fast as she could. He paced in a circle, glancing up at her every few steps. Probably trying to come up with a new and creative way to tell her she was going to get herself killed.

Eventually, he spoke again. "You ain't got a problem hittin' a man where it hurts, do you?"

She blinked. "You mean kicking him in the junk? Yeah, that's fair game."

He nodded. "Well, we ain't gonna practice that, but keep it in mind, okay?" He slipped his own knife back into his pocket again. "All right, guess that's enough for today. Keep track of that blade and I'll see you back down here tomorrow."

She winced, thinking about how sore she was going to be in the morning. "Tomorrow?"

He was already halfway up the stairs. "Bad guys don't take a day off, either."
****
Three gorram weeks of getting her ass kicked, thrown, and bounced around the cargo bay.

Three weeks of memorizing ways to put out a man's eyes, or pop his kneecap out of place, or hit a tendon hard enough that it would freeze up for a moment. Coming up with twenty-five ways to incapacitate somebody using a screwdriver. Going from flat on her back under the engine to running like a jackrabbit at nothing more than the sound of Jayne's foot stepping into the room.

He snuck up on her in hallways, ambushed her outside her bunk, tripped her up whenever she crossed his path. Mal made them call a truce in the dining room, or he probably would've bounced chunks of protein off her head all through dinner.

But the morning they came into port at Persephone, she'd finally managed to knock him flat on his back in the cargo bay, using the hand truck and an oil can. He hit the floor hard, with a crash and a thud, but she didn't look back, just ran like hell up the stairs to the catwalk. When she reached the official "safe zone," she stood panting, hands on her knees, wondering what that sound was that she heard echoing over her heart pounding in her ears.

Oh. Jayne was laughing.

"Gorramit, girl, that was a good one!" he shouted, and she looked back over her shoulder to see him scrambling to his feet, rubbing the back of his head. He was wincing like it hurt, but he was grinning, too. "Hell yes, Kaylee."

She grinned back, still huffing and puffing. "Not quite hopeless anymore?"

"Nah. Not helpless, either. Finally." He touched the back of his head again and looked at his hand, like he expected to see blood. "Tonight...tonight, little Kaylee, you and me. We're going out celebrating. Persephone won't know what hit her."

"This ain't a test, is it?" she asked suspiciously as he came up the stairs to the catwalk. "You're not gonna pick a bar fight and leave me there?"

He reached out to ruffle her hair, and she automatically ducked away. "No test, Miss Frye. In fact, I'll buy your drinks."

"Oh, well, then, if you insist..." This time, when he reached out to squeeze her shoulder, she let him.
****
Mal was waiting in the cargo bay when they stumbled back to the ship, singing the bar-songs of their respective homeworlds at the top of their lungs.

"Uh-oh," Jayne giggled, helping her over the gap at the top of the ramp with exaggerated courtesy. "Dad waited up for you, little Kaylee. Don't worry, Cap'n, I got her home safe and sound and before her bedtime."

"Thank you kindly, Jayne," Mal said, rolling his eyes. "Gonna have a bit of a headache in the morning, Kaylee."

"Worry about that tomorrow," she said, smiling up at him and letting Jayne transfer her weight from leaning on him to leaning on Mal. "Right now, I'm just shiny."

"Shiny as new-minted credits," Jayne said, carefully putting one foot in front of the other as he made his way to the stairs. "Reckon you don't need a sparring session tomorrow, huh?"

"Oh, deliverance! He's set me free!" she giggled, burying her face in Mal's shoulder. "'Night, Jayne."

"G'night." He made it up the stairs and around the corner without incident, vanishing in the direction of the bunks. Mal shook his head, squeezing Kaylee gently. He was probably going to have to help her make that same trip.

"Cap'n," she mumbled into his shirt. "Didn't feel too grateful before, but thanks for gettin' Jayne to show me all that stuff."

He glanced down at her. "What are you talking about, Kaylee?"

She pulled back, blinking up at him. "You know, how scared I was after Early...you told Jayne to teach me how to look out for myself, didn't you?"

He shook his head. "No...he came to me. Said it wasn't right for you to be a target like that, that you were gonna get hurt pretty bad one of these days. I guess I thought that you'd talked to him."

"What? Why would I talk to Jayne about something like that?" She shook her head, her head too full and swirly to puzzle through this. "Might've talked to Simon...or the Shepherd...they're smart with that stuff. But Jayne?"

"Guess he figured it out himself, then." Mal gently eased his arm around her waist and started steering her toward the stairs.

"He was watchin' me?" She shook her head and entirely missed the second step. "Ain't that something. There's a whole mess of things under the stars, don't you think, Cap'n?"

"Mysteries of the verse are infinite, Kaylee."

"I'll thank him tomorrow," she mumbled, as he gave up and mostly carried her the rest of the way to the catwalk. "If I remember..."

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