River's mouth must have opened to tell him off for what he'd said about her whore, because his tongue slipped right in and began tusslin' with hers. That was the first thing he noticed.

The second was that her legs were wrapped around his waist, which meant he'd lifted her off the ground. Her fingers laced through his hair, massaging his scalp, as her tongue chased his back into its proper mouth.

He had one large paw under her rump—he realized he was kneading the flesh of her hips—and another arm around her back, supporting her weight and crushing her to him.

He could feel her breasts flatten against his upper body; he could feel her heartbeat racing against his ribs. He felt her moan before it vibrated under his lips.

He froze.

"Jayne," she'd murmured. "Jayne."

It had been so wholly unexpected, the mountain of a man so angry and passionate, flinging his emotions at her.

It was insulting, of course, to have a man tell her what she could and could not do with her body. Especially this man. Was he honestly blind to the irony in calling Ian a slut? Jayne, who never looked at a woman but to determine her price?

That wasn't fair, either, River knew. Hadn't she been concerned when he'd stopped looking at women as if he were shopping for ammunition or food? He hadn't been the old Jayne for months now.

The new Jayne was sexy as hell.

And then he was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, and there had never been anything more erotic or tender or welcome in her entire life.

When he froze against her—when his arms and hands stiffened and his breath caught and he made sure she was steady on the ground before running faster than she'd known he could move, before running away from her without having once looked her in the eyes—she felt his panic and sorrow and anger (at himself, she realized) and wondered why.

Jayne ran for Jo's place at full speed. He almost got himself killed a couple of times, darting in front of oncoming vehicles and once in front of an Alliance patrol unit. He barely registered the danger.

He'd kissed River Tam. He'd kissed River Tam. He'd kissed River Tam.

He was going to the special hell; his one-way ticket had been bought and paid for the second he'd put his mouth against hers.

She'd looked so gorgeous: flushed, eyes flashing defiantly. She looked like a woman.

But she wasn't, no matter what 'Nara said. He'd taken advantage of the doc's little sister and now he was gonna have to accept whatever punishment waited for him on Serenity. He weren't gonna beg for his life like last time; he'd go along quietly.

He'd be on Serenity when it left. He just needed to say goodbye to his sister first.

"It makes so much sense, Inara! I can't believe I didn't see it before." River snorted. "Genius, indeed!"

The pair sat in the small café where they'd planned to discuss the afternoon's events before returning to Serenity. Jayne's unexpected arrival on the scene, however, became the more important topic of conversation.

"I suppose it wouldn't help to say that I didn't see it before today, either, then?" River's dining companion asked.

"Why wouldn't he have told me his affection? I never know what I'm feeling until it's too late—I thought I was broken!"

River tried to hold in the tears that came when she remembered how frustrating life had been the past few months. It wouldn't do to cry in public. It was only the excitement of finally understanding so many things—having so many strong emotions—in such a short time.

She was relieved when Inara suggested they return to Serenity; it would soon be time to prepare for flight, and Mal would be angry if she were late.

"Mei mei," said Inara as they walked, "Jayne's very confused."

River snorted. "He's confused."

"He's convinced himself that you are too young for him." River opened her mouth to protest, but Inara hurried on, "Despite all evidence to the contrary. You don't look like a little girl, you don't talk like a little girl, and you don't act like a little girl. You're a beautiful young woman, River, and Jayne knows it. He's afraid of something else, mei mei."

River's heart sank. "What? What's got him so scared that he's running from me? I can't afford to chase him all over the 'verse, Inara."

Inara stopped on the sidewalk and put her palms on River's cheeks. River saw the honest hope in the older woman's eyes as she said, "I don't know what it is, but I'd bet it wouldn't take too much to get him past it. He's in love with you. You just need to let him know you're in love with him, too." She paused. "You are in love with him, aren't you?"

The younger woman tried to take stock of the evidence.

"I don't know!" she finally exclaimed, frustrated. "I've never been in love before! I know I love Simon; that doesn't feel like this—but the lust I felt with Ian wasn't as strong as what I feel with Jayne." River felt the tears threaten to return. "I don't want anyone else. I'll never meet anyone I want more than I want Jayne."

She gave a wry chuckle, wiping the backs of her hands against her eyes. "I'd never get the chance, anyway, up in the black all the time."

Inara smiled. "I'd keep that last part to yourself, mei mei, unless you want to claim the boob crown. Remember what Simon..."

River was distracted by an exasperated voice that was growing in volume. "… your fool self-pity and tell that woman how you feel, you dumb boy! I swear, you ain't got the sense of a flea sometimes…"

A door River and Inara had just passed swung open and the voice spilled into the street ("… no, don't worry about that god-awful shirt, Jaynie. I already tore it up for scraps...") followed by the outraged figure of Jayne Cobb. "Love you, Jaynie. You write me, you hear?"

River watched Jayne wave goodbye to his sister and clutched at Inara's hand, suddenly afraid of the inevitable.

When he turned and froze, however, she found herself greeting him with a grin.

"Come walk with us, Jayne. We're headed back, too."

Jayne knew he was in the special hell now. The woman of his dreams walked at his side, and he couldn't look at her or talk to her or touch her.

Well, maybe just a little look. Just to make sure she was okay.

She—she was starin' at him with the most blatant expression of lust he had ever had the pleasure to see in a woman's face!

Eyes forward, Cobb. One foot in front of the other.

Well, he might have been imaginin' it. She was probably glarin' at him in anger. That was what was goin' on.

Better check, then. Had to know how soon he could expect to die.

Wo de tian! That there was the look of a woman who expected to be thoroughly sexed. By him.

Her eyes were all half-lidded, starin' at his. When they dropped to his mouth, he watched in fascination as her tongue slipped between her lips to wet them before she bit the lower of the pair.

Her hand slipped into his and pulled him toward her suddenly. "Almost walked into a waste receptacle. Hazard of distraction," she whispered, and it sent a shiver up his spine.

He tried to speak, but found his throat too dry for any sound to come out. He swallowed.

"You gonna hang onto me, then? Make sure I don't get hurt?" He searched her eyes with his own, anxious for her answer.

"Mei Mei, Jayne, I'm going to go get my shuttle." Jayne started at Inara's cheery announcement and looked up to see Serenity's cargo bay directly in front of him.

He turned to say something to River, but she'd slipped her hand from his and disappeared.

Focus, River. Breathe in; breathe out. Focus. Just get Serenity into the black. One thing at a time.

Jayne all but sprinted for his bunk. Nodded to Mal on the way; the sight of River's brother slowed his step some, but he'd been in his bunk a good five minutes before he felt the boat leave ground.

Wo de ma.

The way she'd looked at him—the way she'd kissed him…

Maybe he'd been wrong about the whole situation. Maybe Jo'd been right about this. She had a way of doin' that. Either way, his man parts were feeling more alive than they had in years, and that was the first thing needed attendin'. There'd be plenty of time to figure out what was going on with the girl later, he thought, as his hand slid over taut flesh in a practiced motion.


He saw her eyes: dark and dilated, dark and laughing, dark and crying, dark and furious.


He felt her mouth on his, her tongue on his, her legs on his, her hand in his.


The hatch to his bunk opened as he came.

She was too late. It was ruined, and it was her fault.

Honestly. He couldn't have waited?

Oh, but his face was so adorable: shocked and embarrassed and apologetic and euphoric and adoring, all at once.

River put her thoughts on pause for the moment it took to climb into Jayne's bed, straddle his thighs, and pull the big man into a sitting position. She refused to think as she claimed his mouth with her own in an attempt to communicate just how passionate was her need for Jayne Cobb.

And then she was kissing air. It was highly unsettling, not to mention incredibly embarrassing. Idiot man. Always with the talking; never with the action. And she would have to reply, of course, in words, which meant turning the thoughts back on.

"We can't do this, girl," Jayne was saying against her lips. "I'm a big, mean, ug—well, not ugly… in fact, women seem to think I'm very attractive, but that ain't the point. I ain't book smart, like you'n Simon. I'm too old and set in my ways and I could be your pa and I'm older'n your brother and Mal. I'm old, dong ma? I'm gonna be old for the whole rest of your life.

"You're gonna be young and beautiful always, and I'm gonna be gettin' wrinklier and slower and someday some young guy is gonna come along and I'm not gonna be able to fight him off an' I'm gonna lose you or you're gonna lose me an' I ain't a family kind of guy. I ain't a good man. I ain't never gonna be a good man. I—"

River rolled her eyes with her mouth attached to his. "Bi zui," she sighed against Jayne's lips.

"But," Jayne seemed to be learning, because he punctuated the word with a kiss, "why?"

Inwardly, River groaned. What was so gorram hard about accepting this as right? Still, his questions needed her answers, and she could do that for him.

"I thought I was broken," she began. "Every time I was near you, I would feel. Feel the most intense desire." She licked his lips before leaning back, cradling his jaw in her palms and studying his eyes.

"I didn't know you felt it, too. I thought I was still broken," she whispered, closing her eyes, and felt Jayne's hand smooth her hair. "I went to Inara for help, but we lacked the complete set of data. I did not factor you in to the equation." She gently stroked his jaw with her fingers.

"The countermeasures proved helpful, but not wholly effective. It was not until you kissed me that I began to understand how mistaken I had been," she opened her eyes. "I want you, Jayne Cobb, both now and when you are old and frail and wrinkled and dying, and for all the years in between: you and no other man."

She watched his eyes widen in amazement and hope before an uncomfortable shadow settled in them again. "You were with another man. You sayin' it weren't no good?"

River flinched, though a trickle of amusement ran through her. "She spent the afternoon with Ian. This is true," she said seriously. "She had a lovely time and learned a great deal."

Jayne's face clouded in pain and he shifted as if to push her off, deliberately avoiding her eyes. River hurried to finish her thoughts, "I am sorry I did not know in time to stop it. She is sorry you were not the one to teach me how to use the Rocket."

Jayne didn't want to be hearing this. This female, his female, telling him about being with another man? He was going to vom—

Wait a minute. Wait one gorram minute.

"The… Rocket? You never…? But… my… and… big and red and… you ain't gone sly?"

And they called her incomprehensible.

"Sly? She has never been attracted to women in the past, though perhaps, given time to explore the possibility—"

Jayne put one large hand over her mouth and another over his eyes and took several deep breaths.

River waited an acceptable amount of time before licking his palm. He jumped and glared at her.

"You gotta stop scarin' me like that, woman! Gonna make my engine give out one of these times," he scolded.

"Just testing the waters," she replied, trying to look innocent.

"I gotta start from the gate, here, an' make sure I got this understood," Jayne began, willing his brain not to start an argument, as was its habit.

"You was tryin' to take care of your 'desire,' so you an' 'Nara went to Jo's place to get you a," he paused, unsure of the proper term, "thing—"

River interrupted. "Correct. She and Inara visited your sister's establishment to find a simulated phallus that would serve her needs."

"Don't interrupt. I'm tryin' to think, here," Jayne snapped, barreling on. "An' you bought the one that's modeled off of me—"

"She did not know it was modeled on Jayne's man parts when she chose it," River explained.

"Gorramit, girl, I said, 'don't interrupt'!" he felt chastened as he watched her flinch at his words. "An' then you went to a man-wh—Companion," he corrected himself before she could, "an', instead of sexin' you, he showed you how to use the... thing?"

River looked at him patiently.

"What?" he grunted.

"Was just waiting for you to finish. Didn't want to interrupt," she said significantly.

Frustratin' woman! "I'm done," he grumbled, though his grumpy mood was fast evaporating into something significantly more pleasant.

She'd chosen his man-parts. His were the only that had ever been inside her. They were the only that would ever be inside her. And she wanted the future with him. She wanted him.

"You understand," she confirmed, and dove in for another kiss.

Oh, go se. What was his problem now?

"Hold up, baby girl. I can't give you what you need right now…" he sighed, gesturing to his groin.

River thanked whatever dear and fluffy lord had given her the foresight to bring the small bag along. She gave Jayne a seductive grin and produced the object stored inside the pouch.

"This will do for now," she purred, placing the Rocket in his hands as she pushed his torso back to the mattress, "though I'm sure the original is much better."