"Jayne," she asks, "would you say I'm pretty?"
He looks up from the table, sees Kaylee leaning over him a little. She step back, puts her hands on her hips, and frowns at him.
"You want me to call you pretty?" He's been asked plenty of things since joining up on this boat, but that ain't one he'd ever expected to hear. Least it ain't Mal asking.
"No." Her frown deepens. "I mean, d'you figure I'm pretty?"
Aww, hell. He looks her up and down, and then spits his mouthful of artificial tobacco-chew into his empty cup. She ain't bad to look at. Cute hair, fun smile. He's seen worse. Way worse. She's easy on the eyes, especially when she's smiling. Finally, he shrugs. "Yeah."
The look she gives him, he figures she'd be throwing something at his head, if she wasn't empty handed. "That's convincing." Her shoulders slump down a little. "Don't you just know how to make someone feel decent about herself."
Women. No way in the 'verse is he ever going to understand what's going on in their heads. You tell 'em one thing, they want more. Or something else. This is why he sticks with whores, most days. Only thing they want is their pay, and maybe a bit of fun, and not to get beaten up. He can do all of them things. Always leaves them smiling, he does. His ma always said if he ever left a woman crying, she'd wallop his ass straight to a prison facility on Londinium.
The memory makes him smile. His ma always has had a strong hand.
In front of him, Kaylee huffs and he focuses back on her, asks, "What?"
"You got a dopey smile on your face."
He looks closer at her, and sees her eyes are maybe a little red around the edges, and her hair's all messed up. She looks bad. Sad. "Yer lookin' kinda like hell."
"Jayne! Why d'you gotta be so mean all the time?"
"What did I do?"
"I'm asking you to say one gorram nice thing to me – 'cause no one else ever does – and you go and mess it up."
That don't make sense. Folk don't come to him for pretty words, or to feel nice. They come because someone needs a beating, or a shooting, or that kind of thing. Maybe that's what she's asking, in some kind of way where she don't have to come out and say it. They've been on planet for a couple of days, maybe she went and ran into someone who tried treating her all wrong. So he reaches down, pulls out his closest knife, and says, "Someone make you sad? You want maybe I should cut on them for a while?"
Her eyes go round. "No!"
So now he really don't get it. "You sure?" He asks, just to make certain. Anyways, he's bored, and it would give him something to do.
Her mouth twitches a little at the corner, and she slumps down on the chair across from him. "Yeah."
"If yer sure." But she looks real sad, sitting there, and he knows that when Kaylee gets a bad mood on, it spells hell for all of them for a few days. Cheerful as a bug, most days, but when she gets mad – or sad – well, he's hardly ever seen anything like it. Makes even Mal tiptoe around her. So, just to cheer her up, he says, "If you change your mind, you let me know. Anytime."
She looks over at him, and this time, when her mouth twitches, it's almost like maybe she's thinking of smiling. "Really?"
He nods. "Yep."
"Ain't had no one make that kind of offer before. Once my pa threatened to break Kavan Rae's arm if he made me cry again, but I was six at the time."
Jayne nods again, waits for the rest of it.
"He stole my rock candy at school."
"But no one's ever offered to go cutting on people for me." She looks real doubtful, like she ain't sure that she wants that kind of offer anyway.
But hell, out here, sometimes that's what needed, and it takes the right kind of person to know that. "I'm a special kind of folk," he says, and this time, her smile is almost back to normal.
Kaylee in a bad mood is confounding.