"No. Honestly, I'm tired of it. " Inara gestured with the hand containing her glass. "My face is up here, not down here."

"Surely men from the Core do that whole chest talking thing." Zoë smiled softly, tipping the wine bottle over as many glasses as she could reach with it. "I thought that was fairly universal."

Inara huffed. "Well, yes, but they're a bit more polite about it." She sent an extra glare in the general direction of the border moon local who'd prompted the change of conversation.

River giggled slightly at the spike of remorse the man emitted. Inara had dressed down for their girl's outing, but… poor man.

River sipped her wine and darted a quick glance at the bar where Jayne was sitting. Their little scene had made him prepared to come to their rescue, but he was relaxed again, watching them.

If this dinky town had more than one bar they wouldn't have let him come to the same one as them, but there wasn't much selection here.

"Women check out men too." Kaylee laughed.

"I…" Inara's cheeks reddened. "Choosing clients isn't the same. I don't base… I mean… That's not like…" She made an indelicate face at the quiet giggles of the rest of the table.

"No, I'm talking about walking down the street and seeing a nice ass or checking out a…" Kaylee made a vague gesture. "Package. You've done that."

"I have." River piped up. "Mal's derriere is hard to miss in the pants he wears, and I've done the…" She mimicked Kaylee's gesture. "Package thing on random guys in the streets."

River looked at the surprised faces of her crewmates. "What? I'm nineteen. I'm allowed to look."

Zoë topped off her glass. "Honey, you're allowed to touch if you want to."

Zoë felt it was her job to get them all as sloshed as possible on their increasingly frequent girls nights.

"But not Mal." Inara said quickly, then winced.

They all laughed, even Inara.

"That is understood." River assured her friend. "Wouldn't want him anyway."

Inara's mouth dropped open, but she stopped herself from demanding to know what was wrong with her lover.

"You know, I always wondered." Kaylee slurred. "Now I'm not saying I don't think men's bottoms are shiny, just why would they be?"

"Thrusting power." River blushed as soon as the words crossed her lips.

The table turned to her as one.

"Scientifically proven." River mumbled. "They did a study."

"You've heard of it and I haven't?" Inara asked.

"Wasn't…" River blushed more fiercely and fell silent. She hid behind her glass.

"River, what about Jayne?" Kaylee prompted.

"His pants aren't as tight." River said wryly. That drew another round of giggles.

"Hmm, yes, but what about Jayne in a sleeveless shirt?" Kaylee pressed. "I've even seen him a time or two with no shirt at all."

Inara's eyes were wide as they darted towards the mercenary. "Maybe in a purely aesthetic sense."

River felt her cheeks heat. "I… He… No. I do not think of Jayne in those terms, not Mal either."

Zoë was smiling wistfully. "I always loved it when Wash wore those vests with the open backs. They always made me want to reach out and goose his ass."

"Yeah." Kaylee said softly. "Wash sure was I shuai /I "

"You're telling me all of you really think women check out men the way they check out us?" Inara finished her wine and held her glass towards Zoë.

"Don't all look at once." River said. "Young man, white shirt at the pool table."

Zoë didn't look. "Tall blonde at the table by the door, blue shirt." She drawled.

Kaylee laughed. "Three outa the four at the bar." She laughed. "Including Jayne."

Inara's mouth was gaping slightly open. "I… alright. Point made. The bartender."

The whole table laughed together.


Jayne sat at the bar, watching his lady crewmates laugh together thru the big mirror.

This rinky-dink little tavern's only working girl was otherwise occupied.

He was taking the time to think on his lady crewmates. Couldn't hurt much now and it would make his upstairs experience more intense. That would be good.

Once that was over, he wouldn't be much danger to his own girls for a little bit. Not that he would ever let himself bother them that way. But it would be easier to put aside thoughts of them. After. Like he usually did.

Except when he was alone in his bunk. He thought about them then.

But, well, he hadn't thought about Zoë like that since her man died. Seemed disrespectful of the dead. Of course, he hadn't had any scruples about thinking on another man's wife while he was alive. Thinking wasn't touching.

It used to be Inara almost every time. That changed quite a long time ago. A couple of years, maybe… No. He knew exactly how and when his focus had changed. Same time he…

It had been even longer since he'd gotten worked up over Kaylee. As much as he teased her, Kaylee'd gotten to be more like a sister to him a long time ago. So it wasn't her he was specifically thinking on now either.

He might try to tell himself he was thinking about them all, but his most honest self knew it had been years now since he'd yearned for anyone but her.

The mostly sane crazy girl. The one most likely to gut him for just thinking.

He usually tamped down tight on this stuff, but what was the harm now? He'd already contracted for time and…

He let his justifications fall aside and concentrated on her instead.

Images of her fighting were first. He had rather a good store of those now. They fought side by side these days.

It always turned him on, but he could use that energy in his fists. Hopefully without her really knowing. Without anyone really knowing.

He'd always gotten the impression she'd beat him bloody if he let on he wanted her. So he tried not to let on.

He wasn't worthy of her anyway. No one was or he would be. Made sense to him.

He always considered himself as good as the next man, but he would tear the head off any 'next man' who came close to her.

He let those thoughts slide away and played pretend. He was touching her, she wanted him to. No, even better, she touched him first…


"Jayne is gazing at me with intensely amorous thoughts." River said suddenly. "I feel… very disconcerted."

"What? Doesn't he usually?" Zoë asked, wide eyed.

"I hadn't ever thought about it, but no, he doesn't." River glanced over her shoulder at the man in question.

Jayne quickly averted his eyes, but River could feel that his gaze found her again as soon as she turned back to her friends.

"Crude jests, yes, constantly." Her brow creased. "Prolonged fantasies where I can practically feel his hands on my body, no, not very often at all."

River noticed that one of her hands was touching the side of her neck in a little pattern. She quickly dropped it to her lap.

"It's because the whore is busy." Kaylee said, snickering.

"I thought Jayne would be just one long sex thought." Inara said, glancing at the man.

River shook her head. "Perhaps when he's down in his bunk, but he started editing his thoughts very carefully as soon as you figured out I was a Reader."

"That long ago?" Zoë leaned back in her chair. "I find that hard to believe, actually."

"Oh, not that he doesn't um… check us out, just that he's careful what he thinks." River shook her head.

"Ah, yes, that sounds more like him." Zoë said. "Jayne came on to me fairly strongly when we first met. Then I threatened to break his fingers one by one. He backed off right quick." She looked around the table. "He even apologized as soon as he figured out Wash and I were married."

"Jayne?" River asked. "Jayne apologized?"

"Seems odd, doesn't it?" Zoë nodded.

"Not to me." Kaylee spoke up. "Jayne has a Ma and three sisters back home."

"Three?" Inara asked.

"Uh huh." Kaylee nodded. "A brother too, younger. He doesn't talk about them much, except when he gets a letter. Then he sometimes opens up a little."

River shuddered, the fantasy was getting distinctly hotter the longer he stared at her.

Kaylee cleared her throat. "We actually came pretty close to sexing when he first came on board." She laughed. "But we got real tired of Mal warning us off each other, so we kinda just didn't bother."

"Really?" Inara looked rather repulsed.

"After a few days it felt like the window had passed… well, after that we mostly just flirted and teased, especially when Mal was around to be annoyed."

"It's always fun to goad Mal." Zoë agreed in that sage way a drunk person can sometimes manage.

River glanced at the big man at the bar, then back at her friend. "But you would…?"

"What? Have sex with Jayne?" Kaylee laughed and gulped at her drink. "Yep, them big, gentle hands all over me…" She shivered. "Or at least if I didn't have Simon."

"I wouldn't." Inara said firmly. "Nice as the body may be, his smell is too strong for me."

"Jayne doesn't smell bad." River looked around at the trio of surprised faces. "What? He doesn't. He smells like… Like a man I guess. Rich, intense like…" Her voice trailed off when she realized none of her friends agreed with her.

"He smells like sweat." Kaylee said. "At least most of the time."

"And that gun oil he uses." Inara wrinkled her nose.

"The sweat smell ain't what it used to be." Zoë paused thinking. "At least he showers regularly now. That was quite a battle." Her lips twitched upward, remembering.

"You're right." Kaylee agreed thoughtfully. "He doesn't smell as bad as I remember."

"First impressions linger." Inara said with a disdainful curl to her lip.

"Sandalwood." River said suddenly. "Back home, my best friend's older brother used sandalwood soap. I could never stop myself from smelling the bar when I was in their bathroom. Jayne's smell reminds me of sandalwood soap."

Her friends looked at her a little worriedly.

"River." Inara began slowly. "Are you attracted to Jayne?"

River's mouth fell open. "I… no… or…" She turned her head towards him again, blushing. "I never…" She looked back at Inara. "Maybe, but no."