A/N: Sorry so long on this one. RL and my muse kicked my butt.

Please review, this one was another more difficult one so I'd like the feedback.

Thanks to Thugs4less for the encouragement and help clarifying some things.

Rating: Still R not very graphic but there is some ffm

Chapter 19

Inara woke to find herself entangled with River and a disappointing lack of warmth against her back, indicating that Jayne had already gotten up. She kissed River softly on the cheek and slowly began extricating herself from the embrace, carefully sliding a pillow into River's arms in an effort to keep from waking her.

Not seeing Jayne, she assumed he had already dressed and gone down for breakfast until the click of ceramic on metal from behind the curtain separating the main shuttle area from the pilot console drew her attention. She stepped quietly to the curtain and peeked in and saw Jayne, seated in the pilot's chair, his pant covered legs and bare feet propped on the console next to a cup of steaming imitation coffee. She attempted to slip in without him noticing and thought she had succeeded until he moved one foot over and pivoted the chair to look at her. He raised an eyebrow at her sneakiness.

Throwing him an impish grin she asked, "How did you know? I'm sure I didn't make a sound."

He grinned back at her and touched a finger to his nose.

"Oh," she said haltingly, not quite sure if that was a good or a bad thing given it was morning and she hadn't cleaned up yet.

He chuckled at her expression. "It's a good thing. Makes me think home, comfort, woman ...", his voice trailed off. He wasn't quite ready to voice some of the other things it made him think.

Inara almost started to go to him but something in his look stopped her.

He drank in the sight of her. The glow of the morning light through the window sparkled on her body. Her black curls mussed from sleep. The adorable crinkle imprints on her cheek left by the pillow. Full lips curved into an edible smile. The rise and fall of her breasts with each inhalation and exhalation, the dark tips hardening as he watched. Shadows under her breasts leading to the sweep of ribs that frame the gentle curve of her belly, punctuated by a dainty hollow where it dipped in before leading downward. The burgundy thong, a slash of color encircling her waist and cupping the mound of her sex before disappearing between rounded thighs. The sweep of soft flesh ending midway down her thighs slashed across by the dark shadow cast by the console. His eyes began the trek upward devouring the feast before him.

Inara had been watched, looked at and examined by both men and women filled with everything from rabid lust to clinical dispatch and somehow had never before felt quite as ... seen. His gaze seemed to ignore everything but her. She felt her nipples pucker as if his eyes emitted some tangible energy that caressed them. It felt like she was under the gaze of a starving man and he saw in her every meal and every dessert he had ever fantasized about. Her breath caught in her throat.

The catch in her breath broke his trance and his eyes went to hers. They swapped sheepish grins at the highly charged exchange and he held his hand out to her as she walked up. Wrapping his arm around her waist he turned her and tugged her into his lap and against his bare chest before turning the chair to face out the window.

Sighing contentedly, Inara leaned against him and lost herself in the tactile pleasure of running her fingers across his chest, smoothing the hair one way then the other and then plucking it back up, sometimes with fingertips, other times by bringing splayed fingers together and tugging on the captured hair by raising her hand.

Gentle fingertips on her chin raised her face to his seeking mouth. Lips opened and tongues darted together, stroking and teasing each other. His breath to her, hers back to him. His hand spanned her side, fingers sinking gently between ribs, fingertips curling into the muscle and drawing back around. The stroke gentled as his hand traveled up to cup her breast. She arched into the pressure as his hand tightened, firmly stroking inward puckering the dark cap and shooting sensation through her. The pressure lightened as his fingertips reached the sensitive tip, rolling it gently, tugging, calloused fingertip circling the hardened nub. Again.

She groaned into his mouth as she dragged her nails across his chest, tips flicking and circling his nipple before letting her hand sink into the muscle surrounding it. They sighed into each other as they relaxed, his hand caressing gently down to lay splayed on her torso, fingers curled around her side and thumb drawing slowly back and forth against the underside of her breast.

Jayne rested his chin against her forehead and chuckled. "It strike you that all this holdin' back's a mite odd?"

Inara, her hand busy combing his chest again, shook with laughter, "Believe me, this much restraint is unusual, even for a Companion and I was trained to have restraint."

"Figured it might be. I been keepin' an eye on how this seems to work, bein' as I ain't really actin' what you'd call normal for me bout this."

"Jayne, you haven't acted in what I would say was a normal manner, compared to what I've ever seen of you, in weeks." Inara said seriously as she leaned her head back to look up at his face. She pressed her lips to his jaw when she saw his face go taut. "Please don't get mad at my saying so. You must know how different you have been from the person you were around me before." Inara had been thinking about this very subject a great deal since having her attention drawn to it so forcibly the day before.

Jayne's face relaxed and he gave her a little grin. "Aw, I ain't mad, really. 'Sides you ain't exactly been the snob I knew either." He tweaked her nipple drawing a surprised squeak from her. He held her to him as he leaned forward and grabbed his coffee and took a sip, handing it to her to share.

She gave him a mock glare at being called a snob. "I was not a snob, just ... proper."

He took another large drink of the still hot drink and held it in his mouth as he set the cup back down. Then he swallowed and leaned down to capture her nipple in his heated mouth.

"Oh! Mmmm," she purred as she arched up to intensify the contact, then gasped when he let the hardened flesh pop out of his mouth and the cool air of the shuttle surrounded it.

"Ain't that what I said? Snob." He declared with a grin.

Turning more serious, she asked, "The answer doesn't matter to me but can you tell how much the link causes the difference?"

Jayne thought about her question seriously for a few minutes. "I sorta have an idea, I think. Ain't sure I got the words for it though. Whats that word that means it starts other stuff to happen, make things change?"

"Catalyst?" Inara asked.

"Yea, thats it. Its like the catalyst. This is the way I always acted around family ... mostly anyway. You and River ain't blood so its some different but its kinda the same." He paused, frustrated that it didn't sound like it made sense. "Just the link maybe made it stronger, faster, sorta? And maybe safer." He growled softly as he looked for the words.

"I think I understand. The difficult part, of letting someone in, is trusting what they might do once they are there. Even just knowing about the link, regardless of what it is doing, we stopped having to worry as much about that."

Jayne nodded, relieved that she had understood.

"Not that we couldn't be mean if we wanted but ... " Inara stopped to collect her thoughts. "For me, I think this is something I have wanted all of my life. Not that I knew it was you or River or all of us in particular but to belong to someone this completely and have them belong back. I only had my mother when I was younger and she was a Companion so there was always a distance between us. I left her fairly young to enter the Guild. In some ways belonging to the Guild fulfilled that need but it was never complete as it didn't provide any true emotional connection. For all that both she and they trained me to maintain an emotional distance, I always craved just the opposite."

She gave a chuckle at the irony. "Unfortunately, they would have put me out of the Guild if they knew that the very thing that made me so good at being a Companion was in direct opposition to the rules."

She smiled sadly at his confused look. "I let myself love most of my clients and that is against Guild guidelines and even Guild law. Not love in a forever way but I loved them for the time I was with them. That is what drove me out of the Core. Things are different there. For all the manners and rituals that make the people of the Core worlds seem refined and proper, there it often really is just about the sex and even the sex is corrupted there. It was often about control and dominance, in a sense of making people do what they don't want rather than fulfilling domination and submissive roles properly where you are meeting their needs. Many of those in power that hire Companions are just looking for highly skilled whores and status symbols, and I use that term as Mal would.

Jayne wrapped her more completely in his arms holding her close. He understood, even though she didn't say it directly, that this was why she had come into the black. This was why Mal calling her a whore had hurt so much. She had been doing everything she could to not be one, yet remain true to what a Companion was supposed to be.

She took a deep breath. "Back to the link. In even just finding out about the link, it set me free. We would never be rid of each other. We couldn't just walk away in a huff or drift apart. After being held by you and coming to know River, I knew that I could trust that you were people that would be there for me." She shrugged, somewhat embarrassed. She was used to talking about feelings, as were all Companions, just not their own and baring her soul was going farther than she ever had before.

She cupped his cheek in her hand and drew him down to a warm kiss. "I said something to Zoe last night about you and I think after consideration that it is more true than I knew at the time."

"Whats that?" Jayne was a little concerned, not as much as he might have been if she weren't all cuddled up with him, but a little.

"For all that River's mind may provide the ... energy ... whatever it is, I think you are the reason it was able to occur. The care you gave us when you reached out to us, I think, anyway, are what gave it the path." She smiled a loving smile. "And for that I will be eternally grateful!"

After basking in the warmth of each other and the sun warming them through the window, she looked up at him. "Now about this restraint."

He chuckled at her tenacity. "Reckon thats the link."

"Do you find yourself frustrated by it? I don't seem to, and I know I really should. It concerns me a little that it doesn't concern me enough." Her statement caused them both to snicker.

"Reckon I have a handle on that. Bein' more than a little concerned my own self and wonderin' if its messin' up my drives and all." He shifted her around and settled himself more comfortably. "Its like a really good meal. Even though you ain't done eatin'; you ain't really hungry anymore but not really done eatin'; you get to this place, an its like a switch got thrown. An you're satisfied. Like some itch you didn't even know you had, got scratched. I usually keep eatin' cuz otherwise I'll be hungry again soon. But you know you could stop and not feel like you was missin' out on any a the rest of the meal. Well, thats what it feels like to me. I'd still like to eat, and I sure wouldn't turn down some dessert," he leered at her, "but its ok if I don't get none."

She sat up with a surprised look on her face. "Thats it, thats it exactly. And I suppose since we both feel that way 'dessert' doesn't come up."

"Know what else I noticed?" He asked proudly.

Inara shook her head.

"That satisfied feelin' kicks in about one step further along than whatever River is joinin' in on. I think it protects her from havin' to deal with more than she can." He answered somewhat smugly, proud at having been the one to figure it out.

Inara grinned at him. Happy for the way getting to explain to her made him feel. And proud that he had taken the time to figure it out.

Suddenly Jayne was struck by an idea that was all sorts of amusin' and he began laughing.

"Whats so funny?" She pressed against him to enjoy the vibrations and rumbling deep in his chest.

"Just realized that the one thing we done figured out about the link we either ain't gonna tell Three Percent, or he ain't goin' to wanna hear." Jayne explained before losing himself in another fit of laughter.

"Oh you are bad." Inara exclaimed before joining in.

As their laughter faded to chuckles, Jayne realized they weren't alone any longer and spun the chair to the side. He saw River standing a little behind them with a wistful look on her face, her body language looking more closed in on herself than he had seen in awhile.

He frowned, "Mornin' Wu Ji, what are you doin' standin' there lookin' all lonesome?"

She wrapped her arms around herself and kicked at the floor, "I ... She ...I ..."

"Stop that!" Jayne demanded, realizing she was feeling left out. "Get your pi gu up here and give me a good morning kiss!" He growled.

Having read River as quickly as Jayne had, Inara held out her arms to welcome her.

River's countenance brightened as she skipped over to climb on them.

Inara shifted her butt to Jayne's right thigh with her legs apart so that River could sit between them on Jayne's other leg and drape her own legs across Inara's on either side of her waist.

After they had both kissed River thoroughly, she relaxed against Jayne and holding Inara's hand , became solemn once again.

Jayne took in her look. "Fore you go gettin' all serious on us again, I got somethin' I want to clear up," he said firmly. He waited until River made eye contact. He'd have turned her face to him but his arms were stuck holding the women. "Don't you be standin' around all lonely like that. Only reason you wasn't already included was cause you were sleepin'. You belong here with us if'n you want to be here. Ain't gotta wait for no invitation, don't matter what we're doin'."

Inara clasped River's hands in her own, "Absolutely, I told you before. We are three, not one and two."

Although her face remained serious River's eyes sparkled at their statements. She stretched her neck up and kissed Jayne and then pulled Inara in for a kiss.

She leaned back studying them. "I am sorry, I did not realize that I was keeping you both from consummating your physical connection. I have been listening for most of your conversation and examining the link for the aspects you discussed and I believe you are correct in most of your deductions. Although, I can't tell what causes the the satisfied feeling you mentioned." River looked from one to the other. "I think the two of you should have sex."

"Wha...You sure you mean to let that cat outta the bag?" Jayne asked cautiously.

River gave him a naughty look as she ran her nails down Inara's abdomen to tug suggestively at the elastic of her panties. "I sincerely hope for Inara's sake, that more than the cat is coming out."

Jayne sat gaping, laughter coming to him only when Inara began to giggle. "Gorram it, ain't what I meant." It wasn't that he hadn't understood, it just wasn't something he was ready for from River and he'd thought it was just his own mind taking a dirty turn so he'd been searching for some other meaning.

Inara leaned in towards River and put her hands on her hips. "Seriously though, sweetie, I think we may have been unclear. We are fine as things are. As we both said it isn't as though we really feel a lack, as yet. I don't think we need to push you faster than you are ready. We really don't know what the overflow might be to you and doing something premature could hurt you."

Jayne nodded agreement. He was reluctant to voice his reasons, he was getting more comfortable with the talks about feelings but sometimes he still felt like he's spoken on em enough for a lifetime. The slow burn building between all of them was something he was really enjoying. Not really knowing what was going to happen next but each step somehow making simple things better than they had ever been before. He'd never been one for delayed gratification but it was certainly turning into something he really enjoyed.

Inara continued. "I suspect that there is healing going on for us as well. I find I savor our time together, not wish for things to happen faster." She smirked at them, "Not to say I'm not looking forward to having dessert one of these days!"

River looked at them closely. "You are sure?" When they both nodded she grinned at them. "In that case, I believe it is my turn to complain about the inequities in how I have been greeted."

Jayne's looked a little stumped as he watched his women. He noted Inara's raised eyebrow and mischievous grin and waited happily. He liked that grin, meant something good was gonna happen.

Inara's tongue touched her lower lip. "You said you have been listening all along?" River stuck her lower lip out in a pout and nodded. "I see. Well, in that case you haven't properly greeted me either."

River raised her eyebrow back at Inara. "I think it only fair that I receive a demonstration first in order to assure that I greet you properly."

Jayne's face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning as he got an idea what was coming.

Pulling River closer to her, Inara leaned in and licked the hollow of her throat. "Well, if you really need a demonstration," she lapped a trail along River's collarbone, "I'll have to see," with gentle kisses and soft nips of her teeth she moved her mouth down the swell of River's breast, "that you get," her tongue darted out to swirl around the pale nipple, "a very," her lips closed over the tip while her tongue savored the pebbled surface, "very," she breathed out on the dampness her mouth left behind, "thorough one." River gasped as Inara laved her breast one last time before drawing it into her mouth.

Jayne reached out to tuck Inara's hair back so that he could watch her suckling River's breast. His eyes darkened at River's quivering reaction when she arched herself forward. Inara's cheeks hollowed while she drew the mound deeper into her mouth. River whimpered when he raised the leg she sat on creating more tension in the soft tissue. Divining Jayne's intentions, Inara turned River's torso more toward Jayne giving him access to her other breast. The breast quivered with the quick pants River took at Inara's ministrations. Jayne leaned in and caressed his way around the already hard tip with his mouth and tongue. He felt her shake when his goatee brushed the sensitive nerve bundle.

He finally let his rigid tongue flick the nub with a couple of hard little strokes before he drew it into his mouth. He rolled it with his tongue, pressing it against the roof of his mouth before sucking it deeper. When he hummed his pleasure at her taste, he felt her breath catch before she sighed deeply. At the feel of Inara raising herself to kiss River, he drew back, letting the nipple pull from his mouth with a little pop. While the women kissed passionately he noted that their nipples were nearly touching each other and amused himself by trying to get a nipple from each woman in his mouth at the same time. So focused on his task was he that he didn't notice when they stopped kissing and leaned their foreheads together to watch him.

They exchanged amused grins, he looked much like River did when she tried to eat an iceplanet. They didn't mind too much since his attempts, the flicking of his tongue and gentle bites and tugging when he tried to hold one nipple in his mouth while he chased the other, were delicious. He could get his mouth latched on one or the other but never managed to get the second. Finally, taking pity on him and themselves, they reached up to guide themselves into the warmth, sighing at the feel of their nipples pressed together in his mouth, his tongue swirling around them in figure eights then lapping. Finally the need to breath caused him to pull back and let them go. Jayne grinned at them, a great big boy with his very own candy store.

Just as River patted Jayne on the leg to get him to lower her so that she could 'greet' Inara properly they were interrupted by a banging on the shuttle door.

"Jayne, thruster is here, Cap'n says get your pi gu down here and help." Kaylee yelled.

"Réncí de Fozu, I forgot breakfast!" Inara smacked Jayne's arm, "Its your fault."

"Ow, hey, I made breakfast." He smirked at Inara's look of surprise. "You was sleepin' so nice I didn't want to wake you. I forgot, there's pancakes on the table under that towel for both of ya."

River pecked them both on the cheek and jumped down, laughing as she ran off. "I get dibs on the head! I promise to greet you properly later, Inara," she giggled back.

Inara glared after the disappearing girl. "Brat, I'm sure she knew I needed to go." She turned a stern look on Jayne. "That was very sweet of you Jayne but I need to do my own chores. We can't afford to get Mal upset and thinking I'm not carrying my own weight."

Jayne shrugged, "He don't know, I woke up pretty early an no one was around yet. They all woke up to coffee and pancakes ready for 'em, don't think anyone was upset." He was getting peeved that she wasn't happier with him.

Seeing the hurt look on his face, Inara relented and kissed him warmly, "Thank you for the thought, Jayne. I just want to be careful to not give Mal any more to pick at us about."

Looking happier now, he held on as she started to get up. "Wait a sec there, I was wantin' to ask you somethin' but we got all distracted talkin' on other stuff. An I'm sorry I didn't think a Mal bein' upset, just you was asleep an I was up. Made sense for me to do it."

He looked away with an embarrassed look on his face for what he was going to ask her. "I ain't tryin' to pry or nothin' but I was thinkin' that it'd be good for you and River to get some body armor. An I ain't got near enough coin for both of you. I'd wait till I had more but I'd hate for one a you to get shot in between, what with the people River says are gonna be comin' an all." He hurried to get it all out, unhappy at having to ask her to help pay.

"That is an excellent idea, only I think we should get some for you as well. How much would three sets be? And don't even think about arguing. Three Sets." There was no way Inara was going to buy armor for herself and River and not include Jayne.

She wondered how they would deal with money issues. They would all have their own income at some point, of course Jayne already did, but she was quite well off by almost any standard except core world and even then she was very comfortable. A Companion's rates were very high because of the standard of living she had to project and now that she no longer needed to project that level of wealth she was almost rich. Not to mention the many items she could sell now that they were unnecessary for her lifestyle. She also owned property on Sihnon that she would probably never use again. She needed to figure out how to make it clear to him, without injuring his pride, that her money was to be used for just these sorts of things.

Seeing the determined look on her face he followed her directions and didn't argue. He gave her two prices, one for custom fitted and one for generic sizes. "There's a guy I know that works in a shop that can set us up with the custom ones in just a few hours if Mal is willin' to wait. Most other places we stop they'd have to order em."

"Oh, I think he'll wait, especially if we tell him we are getting armor for everyone." The cost hadn't been nearly as much as she had feared. Truthfully, it wouldn't have mattered how much it was, as long as she had enough. Credits unspent that could protect her loved ones were worthless to her.

"Well, Zoe has some already and Mal won't wear armor. Told me once it weren't captainy. Says it would make folks we deal with nervous if he showed up to meets wearin' armor." He snorted, "Seemed stupid to me. Maybe if they saw the armor they'd back off on tryin' to get away without payin'."

He wasn't big on her spendin' the coin on him but if he had armor he'd ruttin' well wear it. He didn't care that much for gettin' shot. Gettin' to shoot at folks was another thing entirely. "Anyway, ain't much reason to get the fitted stuff for Kaylee and Simon less you really want to. The reasons for fitted is comfort and they'll stop some of the armor piercing rounds. Simon and Kaylee'd be most likely to wear it on ship and not for very long at a time. An there ain't much likelihood of folks usin' armor piercing on a ship. "

"I think we'll get fitted for everyone and a couple of extra of the generic ones in case there is a situation in which Mal needs one or if we have someone else onboard." Suddenly she realized that she was assuming they would be staying. After consideration, she decided it didn't matter, even if they left she wanted the remaining members of the crew protected as well as they could be.

She kissed him, "You better get going before Mal has a fit. I'll speak to him about letting us all go for fitting after the engine is installed."

Simon carefully worked his way up the scaffolding under the port side thruster to where Kaylee was working. Although she had to know he was there she didn't look at him until he spoke. "How are you feeling, Kaylee? Any vertigo?" He asked gently, if somewhat nervously.

"Not to fret, Simon, I'm feelin' fine. Ain't had a spell in a couple of days." Kaylee answered politely but without any particular warmth.

"Have all the workmen gone to lunch?"

"Reckon. Qīngwā cào de liúmáng if'n they don't take more breaks than any folk I ever worked with."

Simon winced, hoping that her frustration with their work ethic wasn't bad news for his plan. "I was wondering if you might be persuaded to take a few minutes yourself. I brought some lunch." He motioned at the bag he had brought with him.

Kaylee held herself back from squealing. She wasn't ready to forgive him yet, but this was the very first time he had made any effort to do something for her. She kept working until she could be sure she had her face under control. "I can't be stoppin'. You know how the cap'n is. Acts like he's got burr up his pigu. Wants to be in the black by dark." Finally certain that she could keep her face blank she looked at him.

Simon's face fell. He hadn't really thought it would be that easy; however, he had hoped that Kaylee's naturally sunny nature would tip things his way. "I see, perhaps another time?"

Kaylee hesitated. She didn't want to make this too easy for him but being difficult or mean just weren't her best talents. "We'll have ta see." Then to soften the blow she added, "I am hungry though, if'n you got somethin' in there that I can snack on as I go, you could leave that. Cap'n really is liable to pop somethin' if he comes out and we're sittin' here havin' a picnic pretty as you please."

Simon perked up. 'That was a good sign. Right?' he thought. "Inara made some things that are meant to be eaten without having to sit down. They actually look pretty tasty compared to what we usually dig out for snacks, I think having a cook will be nice." He began setting them out with a hopeful look on his face.

Kaylee turned back to the engine before letting her smile break free. "Sure, that'll be nice. Thanks." She said, trying to maintain an off-hand tone.

"Will you really have it ready to go by tonight? It looks so ... unfinished." He assumed it wasn't as bad as it looked but any excuse to keep the reasonably pleasant exchange going was good in his mind.

Kaylee's voice changed to an excited prattle as she was given the opportunity to talk about her girl. "Pretty sure, if'n the engine is in as good a shape as it looks. Just looks a mess right now cause I've got the insides all hangin' out the panel." She frowned. "I'll probably have to tweak it a bit, it's a RKL3XJ-44 and the starboard thruster's a 42 . The 44's supposed to put out 15 percent more power but I've got the 42 fixed up better'n factory specs so it'll take some tests to get em matched up proper like. Wouldn't bother Wash ... anyway, if'n they ain't matched the capt'n 'll have an excuse that the rough flyin' aint his fault. Even if it is." She looked at him and allowed herself a smile at Mal's love of blamin' others.

"DOC! You best not be distractin' my mechanic. Ain't wantin' to fly into a moon cause you had a need to be makin' eyes at the wrong time." Mal's yell startled them and caused both to jump.

Simon blushed and smiled at Kaylee, who smiled back before she realized it and quickly turned back to the engine. "I guess I better go. It's a good thing you didn't sit down with me, I think you are correct, he would have had an aneurism." He began his unsteady trek down the scaffolding.

"I thought Kaylee deserved some lunch." He told Mal as he finally reached the safety of the ground.

"Lunch is fine," Mal groused, "you sittin' up there takin' her mind off what needs doin' ain't. 'Sides you're supposed to be gettin' me a list of medical supplies."

"I have it right here." Simon pulled a sheet out of his pocket. "We need quite a few things, there was quite a bit of wastage when we landed."

Mal grunted as he looked over the list. "Might could get this free if'n we made a run back up to the medship but I ain't much interested in spendin' any more time up there." He looked up with a glint in his eye. He could send Inara. She was the one least likely to run into any problems. He was lookin' forward to seein' how she handled takin' orders from him on a regular basis. She'd never been much good about that before.

He looked at Simon. "You got things to do, get to 'em. I'll take care of this."

Mal walked into the galley to find Inara putting out plates of finger food and sandwiches. "What's all this? It ain't dinner time yet." He growled, almost immediately regretting the tone. He'd done a lot of thinkin' over the night and he didn't want to split up the crew. He wasn't sure how relationships were going to work out, especially with him and Inara but if bad things were coming he wanted them together. He wasn't sure he completely believed River's projections but if there was a chance she was right he didn't want Kaylee and Zoe dyin' cause a his selfishness. He looked her clothes over. He still wasn't much used to seein' her dressed simple like. She had on a very pretty dress but it weren't anything like her Companiony clothes.

"I realize that. It seemed that everyone was very busy, so I made some things they could grab and eat without having to sit down or stop and prepare their own. I thought it would save time for those doing the more critical jobs." Inara replied calmly.

"Huh." Mal nodded, surprised. He hadn't thought of that not having had a cook for the ship before. "Good idea," he said, trying to make up for his earlier tone. He grabbed a couple of the pastry lookin' things.

"Take this list up to the medship and get the stuff Simon wants for the infirmary. They ain't expectin' it so ya may have to use your wiles on them some." He bit his tongue to keep any snarkiness from slipping out.

Inara's eyes widened at the nearly polite speech. She also realized that giving her orders was probably as close as he would come to saying out right that he wanted them to stay. Knowing how difficult it must have been for him she rewarded him with a smile. "Right away, Sir." She said cheekily.

Mal grimaced before giving her a mock glare. "Ya ain't gonna be like Zoe are ya? Don't need ta be figurin' out a whole new set of meanin's for the word 'sir'."

She put a finger to her chin and looked at him as if she were considering it. "Hmmm, maybe not a whole new set. After all, Zoe has some very good ones that I could probably borrow."

Mal growled and turned away muttering something sounding suspiciously like 'gorram womenfolk'.

Inara suppressed a laugh. "Actually, Sir, I needed to speak with you about something as well." She teased him with the 'Sir'.

Mal turned back giving her a not so mocking glare.

"I wondered if I could take the crew off ship once they are free. Yourself included if you like. I would like to get everyone body armor and Jayne knows a shop that can have us all fitted in a few hours."

"What? Thats an awful lot of credits ta be spendin' on my crew. Might want to think on that." Mal didn't believe she would have made the offer if she knew how much it would be.

"What good is money in the bank if spending it now could save a member of my family's life?" Inara asked softly. "Jayne told me how much it would cost and it is something I would like to do."

Mal was touched that she included him even though there was no way he was gonna let her buy him armor. Of course, given that he was Mal, and this was Inara, he had to be a little bit of an ass to avoid letting it show. "Wish you'd a taken care of it sooner, means we'll be stuck here longer." He paused then pulled out a pouch of money. "Long as you'll be out wastin' time, you may as well get supplies. Nothin' fancy just the basics and don't be spendin' any a your own coin for em neither." He admonished her.

"You're the cook so you can pick but you only spend what the ship can afford and we ain't got any idea how long we need it to last. Most a our contacts are gone so it could take some time ta get any work." Actually he knew it would take time. He'd spent a good amount of time on the cortex and it wasn't looking shiny. Folks were scared ta do business with them. Seemed someone had put word out that Serenity was to be boarded anytime it was seen by patrols.

She nodded her agreement. "Will you be joining us?" She asked hopefully.

Mal's pride wouldn't allow him to let her buy him something of that nature regardless of how good an idea it might be. "Got Captainy things ta do. 'Spect you'll want to change into your wh... more Companiony lookin' clothes and get those medical supplies." He stomped off toward the bridge. He needed to find them some work.

Inara started to call after him and offer to use some of her contacts but decided that he wouldn't be pleased to have her help in that area yet.

River slipped into Jayne's bunk. She had been waiting for him to get done with his part of what he could do on the engine so that she could speak with him. Inara had stated a couple of times now that they were three and not two and one but she felt the need to speak with Jayne about the idea. She was quite aware that, in truth, there was more between Jayne and the ex-Companion than there was between him and herself. She felt the need to understand that difference and what it meant to them all. Somehow it seemed less important whether she and Inara were attracted to each other romantically, while Jayne's feelings on the subject were critical to her.

Jayne looked up from cleaning his weapons and smiled as River ghosted into the room and shut the door.

River sat on the floor next to the tarp that Jayne had his guns laid out on and pointed at one of the smaller ones that looked like it might fit her hand. "May I?" She inquired.

He grunted agreement then watched as she expertly broke the weapon down. Her dexterity was amazing. Small hands flashed as she confidently cleaned the weapon. Grabbing the cleaning supplies he moved them so that she could reach them easily. Jayne swallowed and licked his lips as she stroked the patch up and down the barrel, cleaning the inside.

Feeling his arousal in her mind, River smirked as she glanced up at him causing him to flush slightly. "Just makin' sure you know what your doin'," he lied. He'd never watched a pretty woman clean his girls before, it was a mighty interestin' sight.

River was pleased that she could provoke that response in him but still felt uncertain. The only times he had shown an interest in her physically were when circumstances were about more than just her. Usually Inara was present and in this instance it might be more to do with a female handling his weapons than anything about her personally.

She began hesitantly. "I wanted to speak with you about what you and Inara said earlier."

"Whatcha mean?" He frowned at the vague statement.

"Inara has indicated that we are three and not two and one, and you indicated that I was welcome to join the two of you any time I desired, but ..." River hesitated. She needed to know his feelings but there was a part of her that worried about what they would be. She rushed on, "But it is obvious that there is something more between the two of you than there is between you and I." She waited again while she completed the reassembly of the hand gun. Then as the silence persisted she glanced up at his face. "It seems that you go to each other much more easily than to me."

Jayne's face was furrowed with concentration as he worked on Vera. She had told herself she wouldn't read him during this conversation. She was 'listening' to the top level of his mind as usual but it wasn't giving her any information. There were bits and pieces flying around there that did not quantify into any specific meaning. She didn't consider this level actually reading a person. This was the level she touched on with most people and it rarely held much data unless they were actually speaking or listening. It gave her feedback on the immediate conversation without any real depth.

Her resolve buckled and she let herself drop down a level in his consciousness. The tension that was building in her eased as she felt and tasted that he was simply searching himself for the answer to her question and not trying to figure out how to say she was right and he didn't want to be involved in the same type of relationship with her that he desired with Inara.

Finally, his ritual with Vera ended and he wiped his hands on a clean cloth. "Don't reckon 'more' is the right word." He reached for her hand and tugged her around the guns as he leaned back against the bunk, pulling her to sit leaning against him between his legs. He slid his hand into her hair and lifted it up and over her shoulder so she wasn't leaning on it, then stroked his palms across her shoulders and down her bare arms to hold her hands in his and laid their hands on her belly.

"Inara and me, guess you'd have ta say we're just in a different place than you. I ain't meanin' with each other so much as with ourselves as far as sexin' goes. So when we're together like, its just kinda natural for us to be physical. Don't mean we care for you any less'n we care for each other. I 'spect we started in a different place too. Least ways I did, can't rightly speak for her. Always had a thing for her, don't reckon she ever noticed me other than to be somewhere else as much as she could. I ain't really ever thought on you that way till recently. You always been more a youngster in my mind."

River shifted herself around in his arms so that she could see his face. "I am not now?"

He smiled down at her and stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. "Well, I mean to say you're still pretty young but I ain't thinkin' on ya like a youngster anymore. Gotta remember somethin' else too. What with all you been through, we tend to let you lead when you're around, so as we don't do nothin' that'll push you too far. With Inara and me it don't matter none, ain't too likely either a us are gonna be put off by how far things go."

Understanding what he meant eased her mind. She just had to work on making it acceptable for him to touch her as casually as he would touch Inara.

The young woman peeked up at him with an impish grin on her face. "Sooo ... I am in charge then? You will do what I say?"

Jayne let out a short burst of laughter, "Reckon I will at that." He raised an eyebrow and smirked at her, "For now anyway."

"Good." River raised herself to her knees and peeled her top off. "I really enjoyed being greeted this morning," she said with a shy smile then gasped as his mouth closed over her nipple almost before she had finished speaking. She closed her eyes and let her cheek rest on his head as her hands fisted in his hair and pushed herself harder against his mouth. Her smile now one of contentment