Mal had scars from the war. Jayne had seen them a time or two, when a job gone bad, a late night and a lot of drinking had wound them both up leaving them listless and just looking for release in any form. It wasn't romance; it wasn't even lust, just the need of release. Jayne didn't kid himself it was anything more and just as well it wasn't, because he wasn't willing to settle down, he enjoyed his women wild and his men begging and he wasn't gonna give that up for no man, especially one who thought as little of him as Mal did.
It wasn't that Mal hated him, but there was always a certain level of contempt. Jayne had never made no secret of the fact he wasn't bothered about the war, that he'd thought the whole thing pretty damn pointless, even if he did hate the alliance. Mal was a soldier, he fought for what he believed in, but Jayne didn't believe in much except whatever lined his pocket for a few days or warmed his bed for a few hours.
He wondered sometimes though, if Mal noticed that he had scars too. He'd never been in a battle, during the war he'd stayed under the radar, away form the fray, but that in itself had almost been a battle, because week by week the front lines moves further away from the core and onto the outer planets and to avoid it, Jayne had to go further too.
He moved regularly, never stayed anywhere more than a few days, enough to fill his stomach and empty his balls, maybe make a little money while he was at it. He met Alan out there, out on the rim, when the front lines were so close to the back that there was no where left to run too. Alan who'd warmed his bed and yes, even his heart, for weeks on end, where Jayne couldn't bring himself to move on, because for the first time he thought he might be in love.
They came then. In the dead of night when Jayne was warm and sated and Alan was wrapped around him, when they'd spent the whole night making love and daring to dream of a life after this one, where they could be free.
Jayne still remembered the screams, the stench of blood and sweat and the searing pain as a knife drew its way through his flesh and down his back. He lay there in the dark, in the dirt, blood pooling around him that he couldn't tell if it was his or not, but he'd been sure he was going to die there... and he saw Alan, saw him across the long stretch of road, clawing his way towards him and Jayne moved too, meeting him in the middle, blood and dirt streaking his face and Alan had tried to speak, tried to promise they'd get through this, but before he could even finish the sentence he was slumped over and dead right before Jayne's eyes.
Jayne didn't remember being rescued, didn't remember all the time he spent healing, both inside and out, most of it was just a blur now and except for the one time Simon had asked where the scar came from, he scarcely remember it was there.
Jayne wasn't in love with Mal. Jayne didn't believe he could ever love again. He'd worked hard to find his safe place, where he took release where he got it and enjoyed it too. Where he had no need to believe in anyone or anything. It was safe and easy and Jayne didn't feel much of anything that couldn't be eased by a warm and willing body.
And then Mal asked it of him, of all of them. To go out there, to face the Reavers, to walk through his own personal hell. Jayne could have said no, could have walked away, he believed it when Mal said he'd think no less of him, mostly because he knew Mal didn't think much to start with and it'd be damn near impossible to think less of someone you thought nothing off to begin with. But he hadn't, he'd gone and he'd survived. The Reavers weren't so scary anymore, they had faces he could almost recognise, innocents, husbands, wives, parents, brothers, sisters, people not a million miles away from what he was or could be, but for the damn alliance.
Jayne let Mal take him to bed afterwards, after the world had collapsed in on itself and they'd stumbled out the other end more or less intact. And it still wasn't love, or even lust, but maybe now it had some deeper meaning, something more than just a rut in the dark. Because Mal traced the scar down his back, with his fingers, with his lips and he didn't ask, but Jayne suspected he didn't need to and for once, when they come, gasping and panting, Mal clutched him close, silently asking him to stay and for once, Jayne silently replied with a yes.