Disclaimer: The wonderful characters and the good ship Serenity all belong to Joss Whedon, or Mutant Enemy, or Fox, or whoever actually owns them, and that person or entity is definitely not me. Written for amusement purposes only. No copyright infringement intended or implied.

Rating: M, for strong language and some sensuality

Summary: Jayne and River, sittin' in a tree…well, you know the rest. No real plot, just fluffy, Rayne-y fun.

First Comes Love

Deep inside pleasant dreams, it took Jayne a minute to register the rhythmic pressure on his shoulder.

"What?" he jerked awake abruptly, going up on one elbow. He lifted his sleep-fogged eyes, startled and disoriented, and looked into crazy's face, bent near enough to him for the edges of her long hair to fan out across his chest. Just for a moment, he didn't know if he was still dreamin' or not. Slowly, he reached out a hand to the tender curve of her cheek.

"You're needed outside," River informed him, backing away.

Something unnervingly close to disappointment made his stomach go sour.

"The hell I am," he responded rudely, flinging himself flat once again and pulling the covers over his head. How'd she even get in here? Oh, yeah, gorram genius, he noted sarcastically.

River snapped out a booted foot and rapped it sharply against the frame of his bed, only inches from his nose.

"Outside. Dress warmly. Maintain silence."

She vanished rapidly up the ladder of his bunk as noiselessly as she had descended it.

Like a sinister little black bat, he thought resentfully. One I'd like to stomp.

What the fuck was going on? Wasn't it the middle of the night? Why the ruttin' hell did they need to go outside in the middle of the night on one of the darkest, coldest, snowiest moons ever? This place made St. Albans look like a tropical paradise. Jayne grumbled in unspecified annoyance as he pushed himself to his feet. And why'd Mal have to send in crazy? He coulda just beeped him.

Maintain silence…Jayne pondered that as he pulled on his woolens and his winter boots. That meant silencers and maybe knife work. Jayne brightened as he splashed his face to help wake himself up and got a drink of water. Knife work was always fun. Maybe he'd even get his first chance to use that bow 'Nara'd let him have.

He weaponed up rapidly and efficiently. His bowie knife in its sheath on one calf, a couple of tantos secured in their boot clips on the other, his favorite switchblade tucked in the wrist strap up his sleeve, two Wesson-X silenced revolvers holstered at his waist, extra moon clips in his pockets, and his newest toy, his little baby, the bow Inara had given him that she'd used during the battle on Mr. Universe's moon, strapped across his back alongside its little quiver. Inara had been going through some trunks and had intended to throw the thing out, but he'd asked for it. "If you want it, take it, but I never want to see it again," is how she'd answered him. He'd screwed rings to it and attached the strap, 'cause it was a bit bulky and he liked to keep his hands freed up.

He pulled on his heaviest coat and debated whether or not to wear his hat from his mother. Probably best not, it was bright, and he had no idea if he was gonna have to be sneaky. He slapped on the next best thing: his shearling cap with the flaps. Not near as attractive, but…

He climbed out of his bunk, a little unnerved by the dark and the silence. Was he the last one out? He noted that Mal's bunk entrance was half-opened, and the lights were off. He went through the dining room and down the stairs with very little noise. For a big man he could move with stealthy economy. The infirmary and passenger dorms were dim and quiet also. When he got to the cargo bay he felt a cool breeze, and saw that the small side door was ajar and the steps were folded out. They must have gone out that way. Maybe the big bay door would have made too much racket for whatever was happening out there.

Jayne peered around the edge of the door jamb cautiously, and saw no one. More snow had fallen, and the trees and rocks around the clearing where they'd landed were glistening with a fresh coat of white. Out here the wind felt surprisingly warm, sloughing through the big pines all around the ship. He looked at the ground and saw footprints in the soft snow. One set, going out. Small footprints, with little depression. Someone light and graceful. He grimaced ill-temperedly: he could figure on who made 'em. Where was Mal? Or anybody else? He was actually startin' to feel downright creepified. He drew one of his revolvers and eased around the door, pushing it closed behind him. No sense in leaving it hangin' open as an invitation to anyone wantin' inside the ship. He maneuvered down the stairs very carefully, obliterating crazy's footprints. If anyone took a notion to try and track him, he didn't want 'em knowin' how many was out here.

He followed the trail of footsteps easily, still moving slowly and on the alert. He saw crazy's small figure about thirty yards from the ship, her back to him, clad in a long wool coat, a skirt and boots. She was just standing there, motionless.

Jayne gave a huff of impatience. Nice way to make an open target of yourself, girl. Guess when you're a psychic assassin, you ain't got a need to care about such things.

"Hey," he moved up behind her and demanded quietly, "So what's going on? Where's the captain?"

River turned to him, her brow furrowed.

"He's sleeping with Inara tonight," she answered matter-of-factly.

Jayne stared at her.

"Excuse me? So you want to tell me what the hell I am doing tramping around in the gorram snow in the dead of night?"

"I wanted to explore outside. Captain said no leaving the ship without a buddy. You're my buddy," she gave him an innocent glance, and went back to looking at – whatever the fuck she was looking at.

What the - ? This was beyond - ! He threw up his hands in impotent fury, waving the gun around. He snarled soundlessly and aimed it jerkily at the back of her uncovered head, mouthing pow pow pow.

When the homicidal rage dissipated and he felt he had himself well within control, he stalked around to face her.

"Look here, you stupid, psychotic mu gou, if you ever, ever, wake me up out of a sound sleep for anything, ever again, I'm gonna come after you and stomp your skinny little ass from here to Osiris, dong ma?"

"Look at the lake," River pointed calmly.

"WHAT?"

"The lake. It's so beautiful. It looks like a Christmas card from Earth-That-Was," she gestured toward a break in the tree line.

Completely flummoxed at her blatant disregard for his generally threatening presence, Jayne turned his head and followed the line of her finger. Through the gap he could see a small, icy lake glittering in the distance, with this rock's sister moon, unterraformed and shining white in the sky, coursing a silvery path across the choppy water. The vista was framed by snowy pines, and gently sloping hills, and it did remind him of the Christmas stories his mother had read to him as a child. Reluctantly, he acknowledged that it was, indeed, pretty. But not enough to be dragged out of his ruttin' bunk in the middle of the night for. More yelling was required.

He turned back to glare at River, who was still gazing off into the distance, and was wrenched out of his anger by the sight of her. Here was beauty of another kind…maybe…maybe enough to warrant the draggin' out of bed business.

The moonlight leached all the color out of her skin, leaving her hair and eyes gleaming in a dark, dreamy indigo. He could see the pale oval of her face, the delicate cheekbones throwing a slight hollow, the luscious claret curve of her mouth. She looked tranquil, lovely, etched with delicate, otherworldly sensuality. Her skin looked white and fluid like milk and he wanted to run his tongue over it and see if it tasted as smooth and creamy as it looked. Jayne clenched his teeth together and tried to forget that last thought.

"The woods are lovely, dark, and deep," she smiled at him, and he hoped desperately that she hadn't been readin' his mind. "Let's go down to the lake!"

"Hey, wait–" he called, but she brushed past him and was already bounding away through the low scrub and knee-high snow.

Jayne stood for a moment, locked by indecision. He could go back to the ship, strip off these wet and snowy boots, hat, and coat, and crawl back into bed. And, in the morning, he could help Mal and Simon drag crazy's pretty, frozen corpse out of the pretty, frozen lake and explain that, oh, yeah, he'd let her wander off by herself in the dark 'cause he was cold and annoyed. Plus, Mal had said that there were known to be squatters in the area, which is why he had insisted on that yu ben buddy system in the first place. Dammit.

He holstered his gun roughly and began to trudge after her. He wasn't sure who, but someone was gonna owe him big time for this.

&&&&&&&

Huh. As Jayne followed the uneven footfalls made by River's elegant leaps through the snow, he saw other tracks that were almost as interestin'. Heart-shaped tracks, four and five inches wide, that looked just like the ones made by the white-tailed deer that had roamed the edges of his daddy's farm when he was a boy. Nuisance deer, brought by the original settlers to set up a picturesque forest habitat, now overpopulated and trying to get in and nibble away his mother's vegetable garden. Before his pop had died, he'd taught both Jayne and Mattie to hunt: first, with bows and arrows, and then with rifles. They'd feasted on venison many a night, considerin' beef was so expensive and fresh meat was wanderin' around the back fence. River was actually moving parallel to an animal trail, probably one created by the deer to go down to the lake to water.

Jayne spotted some more deer sign…fairly fresh droppings in the snow. While trying not to let River out of his sight, he crouched down for a second to inspect the cylindrical pellets and the tracks nearby. Big pellets, big tracks, that probably meant a mature buck. This was confirmed about ten yards later, when Jayne came upon a deer rub, a row of trees that were scraped clean by a buck claiming his territory. Jayne's mouth lifted in an eager smile. Venison, and a pair of antlers to mount on his bunk wall…shiny.

He set off after crazy with a spring in his step. Maybe he was gonna have to thank the girl for gettin' him out of his bunk after all. He had to admit, this wasn't half bad. A warm wind blowin', crisp fresh air with a piney tang, the moonlight making everything shimmer, meat on the hoof and his own little winter sprite dancin' across the snow in front of him.

River had paused at the final rise above the lake. Without the shelter of the trees, the wind had strengthened and was flicking her long hair around her face like dark, silky ribbons.

"The thaw is beginning…do you feel it?" she said wonderingly, turning to him with a light in her eyes. He had sensed the thaw, heard the ever present drip-drip-drip and the sloppy plops of overburdened branches shedding their loads of wet snow, but that wasn't what was foremost in his mind.

Gorrammit, she was beautiful. He'd always thought she was cute, from the first time he'd seen her come crabwalking out of that cryo-box, but now, two plus years, an approximation of sanity, and a heap of steady meals later, she was just…beautiful.

"Yeah…" Jayne's throat was tight. "I feel it."

For a moment they just stood together, and absorbed the night. Stars twinkled faintly on either side of the moon, and they could hear the soft, rolling, suck and pull of the waves hitting the shoreline of the lake below. A bird hooted hollowly in the distance, and was answered by its mate. It felt like dawn was imminent, except that Jayne knew that "dawn" was still two days away on this moon.

"There's a tree house!" River said excitedly, pointing to the left. "I wonder if we can get up there?"

Jayne saw that there was indeed some kind of structure built into the large oak tree, but it wasn't a tree house. Jayne saw that boards meant to serve as crude steps had been nailed into the trunk.

"That's no tree house, that's a huntin' platform, sweetheart," he answered with satisfaction. "And I am surely gonna try. You comin'?" He gave her a conspiratorial grin.

River grinned back, and bolted for the tree. "Race you!" She called over her shoulder. Feeling like a kid again, Jayne followed.

River scaled the little boards with her usual ease, following their path through a rough cut opening on one side of the tree. Jayne sized up that hole, figured he could make it through, and then worked his way up using the sides of his boots. It was awkward, but doable. The bow on his shoulder held him up right at the top, and there was a tricky moment when he had to hang onto the edge of the platform with one hand and pull the weapon over his head with the other.

"Can I help?" River's pale face appeared in the hole.

"Uh, yeah…" he passed the bow through and she took it up, hand over hand.

Once he was freed up from that, Jayne hoisted himself the last few feet and knelt on the platform. He'd seen the supports nailed into the tree below, and the platform itself rested in a natural saddle of the big old oak tree. He stood up and moved around a little, testing his weight in various locations. Not even a creak. He looked down from the platform and into a little clearing. The wind blew freshly into his face, comin' off the lake. Whoever had built the platform had known what they were doing. He used his big feet to scrape the snow over the side, clearing a large patch from the edge to the tree.

River was looking at the long bow in her lap, running one mitten-clad hand over the embellished wood.

"This is Inara's," she stated. "I remember her using it."

"Well, she didn't want it no more." Jayne reached for it possessively.

"Bad memories," River nodded, handing it up to him. "Inara had never killed before. Never wanted to again."

Jayne shrugged. Sometimes killin' was necessary. Like reavers. Like big fat deer for breakfast. "Gotta survive. Gotta eat."

"I saw some deer in the woods," River mentioned out of the blue, watching as Jayne pulled an arrow from the quill and hunkered down with the bow in a ready position. He eyed her uncomfortably. He never did know how much she was readin' from his mind, how much she knew about what he felt and thought. Or dreamt. Jayne felt his face heat up.

"Yeah. That's what I'm hopin' for. Ever have venison?" He expected her to say no and be disgusted, but she replied affirmatively.

"It's a delicacy on Osiris. Simon loves it."

Huh. Guess who wasn't gonna get offered any, Jayne smirked.

"I like it up here, above the world. I like being closer to the sky," River commented quietly, settling on the edge of the cleared platform, huddling into herself with her chin on her knees. She made Jayne kind of nervous. They were over twenty feet off the ground. Even super-assassin crazy would damage herself in a fall from this height.

"You want to move it back a pace," he advised gruffly.

"I'm fine," she smiled at him reassuringly, shivering a little. Now that they had stopped moving, a chill was setting in.

"You look cold. Ain't you got a hat?"

"No. My mother doesn't knit." She twinkled at him.

"Here." Jayne reached up and took off his cap, tossing it to her. "It ain't the cunning hat, but it's something."

She drew it into her lap slowly, even tugged off her mittens to feel the softness of the shearling inside. She raised the hat to her head and slipped it over her ears. It was so big on her that the brim fell down over her eyes. River pushed it back and laughed lightly.

"Thank you. It is very cozy. And very large."

Jayne looked away, 'cause seeing her in his hat was doin' unusual things to his insides. As he scanned the clearing he noted movement and he tensed.

Yes! A surge of satisfaction shot through him as he saw a big buck sidle into the clearing. He was an impressive specimen, with a near perfect set of antlers. The velvet was gone, but he hadn't shed them yet, so mating season was underway.

"Quiet now, girl," he murmured to River, and waited for his optimal shot.

He raised the bow to shoulder height, notching the arrow and drawing the taut string soundlessly, staring at his target.

"No," he heard River's tiny plea behind him. It jolted him out of his concentration and he shifted in annoyance.

"Shhh," he muttered under his breath, and closed one eye just in time to see a doe following the buck hesitantly. It was a pretty doe, with wide dark eyes and a fresh tawny coat. She had delicate little feet, ears and tail. The doe looked young in comparison to the grizzled buck, with his magnificent antlers and thick, muscular frame. The scars that crisscrossed the buck's haunches and shoulders bespoke a hard-fought life. A few of the injuries looked fresher than others, real jagged wounds that hadn't barely healed. Jayne remembered his father telling him that some white-tailed deer had been known to mate for life. Jayne wondered if the buck had had to fight extra hard for this little doe. Maybe she was the one he'd been waitin' on, the one he wanted for ever.

The doe moved forward and the two animals touched velvety black noses in a brief gesture of affection or recognition. The buck arched his neck proudly, and the doe shifted closer. The male stood guard protectively as she snuffled at the greenery revealed by the melty patches.

Jayne held, his arm beginning to tremble under the strain. He could smell that venison pan-fryin' in the kitchen. Some good oil, some garlic, black pepper and onion powder…his stomach rumbled. He could practically taste it. He had that big beast in his sights. Just one small movement, one muscular twitch, and he'd be eatin' deer steak, one-two-three.

"Please," River whispered again.

Jayne closed his eyes and swallowed hard.

"Oh, hell." He eased the tension from the string and let the arrow drop to the platform, his head falling into the curve of his coat sleeve. He rubbed his face back and forth against the rough material in defeat, before pushing himself up to his feet and maneuvering heavily against the trunk of the tree. He sank into a sitting position, still holding the bow, his knees bent up and his feet flat against the boards.

The sound startled the animals below, and they shot into the brush with amazing speed. Two bounding leaps, and they were gone.

"You ain't gonna let me shoot nothin' tonight, are ya?" he complained, looking at River still all curled up in a ball at the edge of the platform. He wanted to yell at her, but she looked so ruttin' adorable in his hat.

"It will spoil the beauty. Tonight is for life, not death," River answered solemnly, but he could see she was very pleased with him.

Jayne groaned and let his dark head fall back against the rough bark, the thudding sound loud in the quiet air. The bow dropped listlessly into his lap and he shoved it to the side in disappointment. It scared him a little bit to realize that pleasin' her made somethin' go all warm in his chest.

"Maybe tomorrow," she offered reluctantly.

"I thought on a big fat venison steak for breakfast," he griped with bad grace, staring up sulkily into the dark, sparse branches above him.

River followed his gaze, and spotted a mound of green leaves and waxy white berries nestled in a crook of the tree about six feet above the top of Jayne's head.

"Mistletoe!" she exclaimed in delight, pointing upwards, shuffling forward on her knees so that she was only a few feet from him.

"Wha'?" Jayne craned his head back even farther as he looked to where she was pointing. Why was he startin' to get the feeling that whenever she pointed at something, strangeness was gonna follow?

"Mistletoe. Viscum album. The common name for various parasitic plants in the order Santalales, belonging to the families Santalaceae, Loranthaceae, and Misodendraceae."

"Wha'?" Jayne repeated mockingly, staring at her. "Speak sensible, crazy."

"It's a plant," River smiled at him.

"I can see that. So?"

"Oak mistletoe is rare. It has been attributed with mystical properties for millennia. The druids used it in their rituals and sacrifices on Earth long ago. It was thought to be able to extinguish fire, protect against poison, and ward off… witches." River raised an eyebrow wickedly.

"Better get me some," Jayne pulled a knife out of his boot and pretended that he was going to stand.

River giggled, recognizing that he was teasing.

"More recently mistletoe had been associated with fertility, and with marriage. It would be gathered into a ball, and decorated with ribbons, and hung during the Christmas holidays. If a young female found herself beneath the ball –" River stopped suddenly.

Jayne slid the knife back into his boot and looked back to her. "Yeah? What?"

"Then…" River trailed off, drifting closer.

"Then what?" He demanded. Seemed like a pretty stupid thing to do, tying up a buncha weeds for decoration and hangin' it from the ceiling.

"If the girl was caught beneath the ball by a man, she could not refuse…" She glanced back up at the mistletoe, and then back at him. The expression in her eyes made something inside him sit up and take notice.

"They must abide by an ancient custom." She leaned forward.

"Like what?" But something was ticking away at his memory…he did recall somethin'…an intense wave of anticipation ripped through him.

"They must kiss." Suddenly River was only inches away. He could feel her warm breath puff across to his lips. "On the mouth."

"I – I – don't –" His jaw wagged. Her mouth was curved like a bow, and her lips looked soft and pink and damp.

"It is the custom," she murmured. "It's Christmas."

"It ain't Christmas." He contradicted, shaking his head a little, his eyes locked on her mouth.

"It is somewhere in the 'verse," River whispered.

Did he dare? She said she couldn't refuse. Didn't seem like she wanted to refuse. Seemed like she was very interested in re-enactin' this particular custom…

Jayne felt his head moving forward as if drawn by a magnet. Almost…almost…ahh.

Her lips were rose petals. Cool velvet. The skin of the sweetest peach. But alive, stroking against his, parting and sighing and moisture and heat…Jayne deepened the kiss hungrily, his hands coming up to cup the sides of her head, holding her mouth to his. Their tongues brushed together and he shuddered deep inside.

Jayne groaned, and his mind blanked out except for one thought: more.

River gave a sexy little mew and shifted forward to straddle his lap. Her clever hands were busy, releasing the catches on his overcoat, spreading the cloth just enough to shimmy inside and press her lithe young body into his warmth. Jayne reached down and slid his hands around her thighs, pulling her in even tighter. He lifted his hips up helplessly, starving for more contact. He wrapped his arms around her, one hand flared across her bottom, the other locking around the back of her neck. They snatched brief gulps of air before returning for more kisses, River's arms wound around his neck, and Jayne's fingers tangled in the cold silk of her long hair. They were lost in a frenzy of sensation, almost too much to bear.

"I dreamt a this," he growled against her creamy throat. He gave in to his impulse and licked her sweet skin, a feral smile crossing his face as he felt her shiver.

"I know," River replied softly, ducking her head to bite the edge of his lower lip with her small white teeth, and it was Jayne's turn to shiver. "So have I," she breathed, and his whole body lurched with excitement.

"You wanted this?"

"I wanted you. Away from the ship, out in the quiet beauty of the night, just Jayne and River," she uttered unevenly. "Mistletoe was an unforeseen bonus."

"You know I want more'n kisses," he said thickly. He shoved one hand between them and flicked open the buttons of her coat. He pushed her thin sweater down to caress her cotton-clad breasts. She was so warm and soft…

"Yes," River sighed, arching against his touch.

"We gonna go there?" he murmured huskily, feeding on her mouth, the rich, gentle kisses he didn't want from no one but her.

Jayne pulled back to look at the woman in his arms, her head thrown back in pleasure, thinkin' on how she was the shiniest thing he'd ever seen. As gorgeous as the moonlight, and the snow, or even those woods out there, what did she call 'em, lovely, dark and deep. Like her eyes, like her name…

"Yes, please…" River answered faintly, her whole body trembling.

"River…" he groaned. He pushed her from his lap, lowering her to the rough, damp, boards of the platform, watching her wiggle out of her coat and spread it out beneath her slender frame. He shrugged off his long duster, and haphazardly yanked off and discarded all of his weapons, so carefully arranged, from his person. He flung his coat over his shoulders before he covered her with his big body, making sure the edges enclosed her.

"Warm enough?" He questioned briefly and she nodded, her eyes shining up at him. He bent his head to hers, kissing her deeply. His hands slid down, to the hem of her silky skirt, and he raised it inch by inch, lettin' his hands become acquainted with each newly revealed sliver of skin. Ragged breathing and long, sweet kisses were punctuated by sighs and moans as he and River discovered each other. It became a challenge to see how intimately they could touch without letting the chilly air in. Jayne had never had sex like this, so hot and so cold, so confined and so intense. He had never had a woman like this, so strong and so fragile, so innocent and so knowing. Sexin' was somethin' he'd been masterful at since he was sixteen years old, but in the end, River showed him somethin' new: what it was like to make love.

&&&&&

"Now that's what I call the buddy system," he teased her gently. They were cocooned under his coat, lying face-to-face, with River's limbs curled up tightly against him. They had both redressed as much as they could to retain body heat, and she was still wearin' his hat. He was never gonna be able to look at it again without remembering their first time. First time…his heart and other body parts did a happy little jig. They were definitely gonna have some more times.

"Remember to thank Cap'n Daddy for the idea," River sighed sleepily.

"Yeah, I'm sure he'll appreciate that."

"Safety first," said River primly, and then giggled. Jayne laughed along with her, enjoying her sense of humor. He could laugh, now. He could finally let her see…how much he liked her. No more crabbin' at her, no more snide remarks born of frustration and hopelessness. She wanted him. She liked him. Something eased inside, and he felt true content for the first time in years.

Jayne's stomach growled and River giggled again.

"I'll get me some venison before we leave this rock. We're gonna go huntin' tomorrow, buddy," Jayne vowed.

River shook her head.

"I already went hunting."

"You stopped me from shootin' that deer, remember?" he snorted. But he recalled that proud old buck with admiration, and was secretly grateful that she had.

"I hunted you." She touched her fingertips to the sides of his face. "I flushed you from your den, drew you on, sized you up, and …pounced." She lifted her head to press a quick kiss to his mouth.

Jayne thought on that for a second. Hell, she was right. Like a mouse to cheese, and snap went the trap. But he wasn't about to complain. She could lead him on a merry chase for the rest of their lives, and he had feelin' that she would. He could take it. No yelling required.

-Fin-

Chinese:

mu gou – bitch/female dog

dong ma – understand?

yu ben - stupid

A/N: This was such fun to write. Sort of a companion piece to "Torrential," in a way. Why do I always see Jayne and River outside? I just want to give Rayne a big glompy hug, they are so sweet together. Please read the epilogue, just a bit of crackfic that made me laugh as I wrote it. Thanks for reading! Gem

(Regarding Inara's bow-thing from the BDM: according to Joss in the commentary, it started out as a regular bow with arrows, but then they decided that looked too Wonder Woman-y, so it changed into something else for the battle with the reavers. Even he and Tim Minear aren't quite sure what it was. So I just went with what was simplest, a regular long bow.)