Notes: Hey, this is my first fanfic... I'm madly in love with all the River/Jayne stuff out there but there wasn't enough! So I had to make my own sad attempt. Here you go...

The warm dirt crunched pleasingly under her feet. It was easier for her to stay grounded with her bare feet directly touching the soil. This way she felt connected to what was real, what was true: she knew where she stood. The wind slowly danced through the hem of her long, red dress, making it flutter about her legs. She sighed, enjoying the caress of this world. As she walked, a speck of something pretty distracted her chaotic thoughts, focusing them in on the shining bauble. She bent at the waist to stare down, doubled-over, at a crushed tin can half buried under the dirt.
"Alas! Poor Yorick. I knew him," she murmured to the lonely can, then straightened up and smiled at her silliness. Her thoughts always came out into words; she couldn't suppress any of it... most of it made sense only to her, like a strange private joke with herself. Sighing at the difficulty of it all, she glanced back towards Serenity, and then continued her walk toward the slowly setting sun.

Kaylee, Mal, and Simon walked towards Serenity, following Zoë on the mule. They had been in town picking up the supplies they needed to last them until they completed their next job. Inara was visiting a client off- world, so Mal had left Wash to guard the ship, Book to guard River, and Jayne to guard everything else. It had been difficult to find all the things they needed: the town was almost completely deserted. The planet was far from hospitable... sometimes terraforming wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The twitchy vendors had also complained of a group of bandits that came to plunder any unsuspecting ships in dock, which had further frightened away any source of trade for the planet. Despite the problems that kept it from being a right fine place to vacation, the crew had managed to find a client here.
As they walked up the loading ramp, Mal hopped in the back of the mule, good-naturedly instructing the four crewmembers, "All right, boys and girls, lets get loaded up and hightail it up to the hills. Don't want to keep the lovely lady waiting."
The 'lovely lady' was a withered old crone with a nasty disposition and a stench to match. Despite the smell, she had a well-paying proposition for the crew. Her dead husband had been a prospector and had hidden a stash of gold in the hills north of the town. She was too old to go get it herself, so she offered 20% to dig it up for her. She had a contact on a planet nearby who would pick up the gold in exchange for standard Alliance credits. So, basically, they were glorified money launderers/archaeologists. Mal's pride was slightly injured, but... beggars can't be choosers.
As they entered the cargo hold, Wash bounced down the stairs from the bridge to help Zoë unload the goods. Jayne was hanging by his knees from the catwalk doing sit-ups while reading an old copy of "Bull's-eyes and Bullets".
"Jayne, you gonna get down here and help?" Zoë called up to him.
"Nah, I'm busy," Jayne replied.
"Fine, fine. But I was just reading about a real nasty hwoodahn: a new laser-sighted, silver-plated, double-barreled beaut."
"You can read?" Mal cracked as he looked at the upside-down merc.
"Of course! My ma taught me when I wasn't any bigger than Wash here." Jayne released his legs and dropped down to the floor. He strode past the pilot, mussing up Wash's hair as he grinned at everyone else.
Wash, never one to let a challenge of Jayne's go by unanswered, responded, "Aw, she only taught you to read to keep you from drinking bleach." Jayne's blank look was quickly replaced by a growl as he stomped off to shove cartons from the mule into the hold.
Kaylee was quick as always to defend her poor Jayne. Everyone picked on him, but she knew he was nice inside. Somewhere. Hidden carefully. Deep down.
"Aw, don't worry Jayne! He's just teasing you. I bet your ma taught you lots of neat things!"
"Damn straight. Great woman, my ma. Taught me to shoot, shave, and slice a man's throat before he could hear me creeping up on him." Kaylee's smile wavered for a minute at this information, but she recovered quickly, carefully patting Jayne's arm and saying "Well, it's come in handy a lot here, hasn't it?" Simon's jaw dropped at Kaylee's defense of the man-ape. How could she be so fond of such a Neanderthal? Couldn't she see he was just an animated bicep? His borderline jealousy ebbed back though, as Kaylee sidled up to Simon, and asked if he could help her take the groceries up to the kitchen. Her hand lingered on his arm much longer than on Jayne's, he noticed with tentative pleasure. She even squeezed his hand! And look at her eyes. Lao tyen, her eyes were beautiful. He wanted to tell her, but his mouth just hung open as he watched in beautiful slow motion as her hair whisked around her face. He felt quite juvenile, getting all goosey over a touch on the arm and a brush of her fingers, but things were different now, and he would take his triumphs where he could. Naturally, his happy reverie was interrupted by the clumsy Jayne, who 'accidentally' bumped into him.
"Get your peegoo out of the way, boy. The men are working here," Jayne postured, gesturing towards himself and Zoë. Simon, still reeling from his happy moment of Kaylee-worship, wandered off after her, muttering under his breath, "Chur ni-duh, you baboon."
While Jayne, Zoë and Wash continued putting the cartons away, Mal went to the bridge to pester Inara about her return time. While he was in the middle of a rather heated debate about whether pirate treasure was more important than Inara's commitments, he was interrupted by a bit of a commotion from down below. Leering as he joyfully cut off Inara's indignation with a "Sorry baobei, we've got a situation," he trotted downstairs to find a panicked Simon interrogating Book. Kaylee was jumpy, and ran up to Mal as soon as he arrived.
"River's gone! She was reading with Book, but she said she had to see Jayne. Now she ain't here!"
"Why would you let her see Jayne?" Simon demanded of Book. "She tends to try to kill him. And he isn't very patient about that!"
"She was doing very well today. We had been talking about making amends with those we've wronged. I assumed she went to try to heal the relationship between the two of them," Book tried to explain.
"They don't have a RELATIONSHIP!" spat Simon.
Mal interrupted, "Quiet down! Jayne. Did River talk to you?"
"Yeah, Miss Fruitloop walked off the ship awhile back. Kept calling me a duck. A gorram duck! I always thought I was a buffalo. Or an eagle. Maybe a stallion."
"You're an ass, Jayne! Why didn't you mention this when we first got back?" Mal shouted.
Jayne shrugged. "Forgot."
The rest of the crew stared at him, dumbfounded. Mal seethed, knowing that they wouldn't be able to make their meeting with the old lady if they had to waste their time looking for River. He rolled his eyes, staring down Jayne.
"Fine. Look," he addressed the crew, "if we don't make that meeting, we lose the job. We lose the job, we don't get paid. We don't get paid, we can't afford fuel and we'll never be able to get off this luhsuh planet."
Simon felt his stomach drop. There was no way the captain would leave River here... would he? Simon was never sure.
"So," Mal glared at Jayne, "you are going to stay here and find her while the rest of us go finish this job. Dong ma?"
Neither Simon nor Jayne was thrilled with this. Simon wanted to stay to find her himself, and there was no rutting way in hell he trusted Jayne to find his little sister. Jayne, of course, wanted to be where the action was, not playing babysitter. He squinted down at Mal.
"Now, wait a minute..."
"Hey, you lost her, you find her."
Simon butted in, pushing aside the much taller Jayne. "Captain, let me find her. I know her better. Besides, you'll need Jayne for the job."
"There are bandits about, remember? You wouldn't last long on your own, no offense. Jayne is the best tracker here. He'll find her." Mal gave Jayne the 'or else' stare and motioned for Wash to get to the bridge.
"Get this bug in the air, Wash. Jayne, find River, take her to town and stay out of trouble. We'll meet you after we pick up the goods." Mal closed in on Jayne, making his point clear. "You WILL find her. Your, uh, career, depends on it."
"Ta ma duh," pouted Jayne, as he scuffled off the ramp into the night. He watched as the doors closed and the ramp retracted. "Gorram girl will be the end of me."

River had been walking for too long. Her legs hurt. Her stomach hurt. Her head hurt. She had left Serenity in a haze, distracted by the duck hanging from its feet in the cargo hold. It had looked familiar, but that just bothered her more. It had such pretty feathers, but it wouldn't talk to her. Now that she was lost, cold, and hungry, her senses returned to try and keep her alive. Her eyes finally cleared, and she looked out at her surroundings. She was in a shallow canyon. Huge boulders and dried-up tumbleweeds made a jumble of her path. It was night, but a moon was out, casting eerie blue shadows across the land. River furrowed her brow. The light made her nervous, she wasn't sure why. She rushed towards the nearest boulder and sat down, resting her legs. Her heart was racing, where was everyone? Where was she? She thought about crying, but deemed it useless, so she pulled her knees to her chest, tried not to think about food, and hoped that Simon would find her soon.

The rest of the crew had taken the shuttle up to the eastern mountains. It was too far to walk, and there was no way Serenity would be able to land in the craggy area. Mal was the first to emerge from the shuttle and look around at the dusty shack that the old woman had chosen as their meeting place. Arms akimbo, he squinted into the sunset. Sure was a piece of go se place to live. Trash was piled up around the house, broken bottles, protean wrappers, bones. Malcolm Reynolds sighed a mighty sigh. So this is what his life amounted to. Running errands for wacky old coots. Zoë came up behind him, glancing stoically at the dust and debris.
"You sure she's good for the gold, Captain?"
"Hope so, I'd hate to shoot an old woman for cheating me."
Book and Wash shuffled out and Wash leaned an arm across Zoë's shoulders.
"I'll do it for you. Old folks give me the creeps."
"Good to know."
Kaylee and Simon were still in the shuttle. Simon was pretty preoccupied about River's disappearance. Kaylee tried to comfort him as best she could, but all her reassurances about how Jayne was a fantastic tracker and could do all sorts of manly things only made him feel worse.
Mal felt nervous bringing the entire crew on this job, but it was easy. Almost too easy. No challenge. Besides, he'd need every hand to help with the menial job of digging up the gold. What kind of gaichi hides his gold in the ground? What a complete waste of time. He walked up to the warped plywood door and knocked. Mrs. McGee, all 80 pounds of dried up bone and ratty white hair, stood in the doorway. She was hunched over, with a long, thin nose and a scrunched up mouth that looked like a dog's peeyen.
"Ugh. Shoot me when I turn 50," he whispered to Zoë.
"Gladly, dear."
Mal stepped back from the woman, a little light-headed from the smell of urine and rotted food emanating from the house.
"Um, hey there. It's me, Malcolm Reynolds. We're here about the job."
Mrs. McGee looked him over, then whispered in a crackly voice, "Good to see you again, handsome. Won't you come in?" She gestured towards the inner room, and Mal all but tripped over his feet to back away.
"Uh, thanks, you're so kind. But, my crew and I are on a bit of a schedule. We'd like to get right to it. Maybe some other time."
"Of course, of course. Here's the map. You'll need to go about a mile over those hills and it's somewhere by the stream. The sun's almost down. You'd better get started soon. A person could wilt to death in the daylight out here. Once you've got the gold, take it to my man. He's orbiting the planet. Travels on the Juggernaut. I've already arranged everything with him. He'll transfer the funds to my account and pay you your percentage."
"Sounds fine. Well, we're off then." Mal grabbed the map and speed walked back the shuttle, leaving Zoë and Wash in his dust.

Jayne stomped across the desert. As soon as the sun had descended, the temperature out here had dropped about 50 degrees. Stupid desert. He swung a pair of combat boots in his left hand. He had found them about a mile away from Serenity. Moon brained girl refused to keep her shoes on. He knew they were hers, they had the purple-and-green striped socks that Kaylee had given her poking out of the top of one boot. Jayne sighed. Dumb girl. Didn't even know enough to keep her shoes on. He half-heartedly hoped a scorpion would bite her. It was cold out here. He thought back to the conversation River had tried to hold with him when he was working out. She wasn't making sense. Called him duck. Told him he was pretty. Pretty! Of all things. Everyone knew he wasn't pretty. He was... ruggedly handsome. In a dangerous way, of course. Yeah, dangerous. Jayne smirked and puffed out his chest as he walked. He was the most dangerous son of a motherless rhinoceros as ever walked the... Jayne abruptly stopped his happy meditations. He had heard something. Probably just a bird or something, but it made him downright jumpy. Might be a rabbit. They made that weird sound when something was trying to eat them. He dropped to a crouch behind a rock, and waited for the sound again. Grinning, Jayne was savoring this part of his job. The hunt. It was what he was best at. That and shooting people in the head. Jayne used to go hunting with his sisters back home when they were little. They'd catch birds, rabbits, anything ma could cook up. He could smell the animals from a mile away. He was a predator at heart. Knew what tracks to look for, the broken branches that would show him how big of an animal he was dealing with. When he first started working as a mercenary, he hunted men who were afraid, who were bleeding, who were soon to be bankrupt. Men were much more interesting than rabbits. Men tended to shoot back when you found them. Nasty habit. This was the first time he had to find a woman. An unarmed, mentally fragile woman. He had watched River's footprints, seen how she'd walked determinedly in a straight line, then suddenly veered off course, skipping in loops. He had seen a crushed tumbleweed, and a small smear of blood on the rocks. She had tripped and fallen against the rock and into the brush. Probably just scraped her hand a little, he told himself. He rubbed his fingers through her blood, to test the stickiness. He could smell her, too. Just faintly. Smelled like... girl. And earth. He could smell the soap clinging to her dress, the sweat trickling behind her knees, the dirt beneath her feet. He could almost feel her breath panting. He was getting closer.