The first time it was blueberries.
River returned to her room after an exhausting shopping trip with Kaylee and Inara to find something out of place. She knew for sure she had left the door completely closed. She always did, but here it stood, two inches ajar.
River backed away silently, reaching her mind into the room. No one there. Not necessarily good. An intruder would be simpler than a bomb or…
River retreated as far as the lounge and set down her shopping. It was a load of fripperies, mostly pressed upon her by Inara. It was useful to have a well to do friend with excellent taste.
Unburdened, River drew her pistol and returned slowly to her room. She opened all her senses, trying to pinpoint any traces that might indicate who had invaded this portion of the ship. Her corridor, her room, her privacy.
At least there was no presence that did not belong to the ship. No outsider.
Kaylee had been here recently, but that was probably to check the reactor room which was up the ladder at the end of the hall.
There were traces of Jayne as well, perhaps to help Kaylee?
River stood next to her own door and inhaled. A whiff of living soil assailed her nostrils. That was definitely out of place in her filtered and sterilized environment. She inched the door open cautiously.
No one inside. Nothing looked out of place, but…
There. On the floor. A little square vessel that hadn't been there when she left.
River snapped the light on and holstered her sidearm.
Someone had randomly left her a half pint of blueberries? She stooped to retrieve the box, turning it around in her hands.
Why? Who? And why was there no note?
River shook her head. They weren't even her favorite fruit.
She picked one out of the box and examined it closely. No blemishes or puncture marks that might indicate poison. She sniffed the berry and popped it into her mouth.
She eyed the box, even more perplexed than a moment before. This was a gift. Who on board would give it to her then not tell her why? It wasn't even close to her birthday.
She could exclude Kaylee and Inara, they had been with her all day. Simon and Zoë would have placed the gift into her hand. Mal would have at least left a note, except he wouldn't have given them just to her. He would have made them a treat for the whole boat.
That left Jayne, which seemed improbable. Except why would Kaylee need his help to check the reactor?
River left her room, determined to look Jayne in the eye and fish the truth out of his skull.
She found him in the kitchen amid a mess of bowls and measuring spoons. He was doing the washing up while something very appetizing was baking in the oven.
Jayne jumped slightly when she entered carrying the box of berries.
It didn't take any digging to find the truth, his mind practically screamed it at her in the first moment.
Yes, he bought her a gift. No, he didn't want her to know who had done it. Oddest of all, he didn't mean anything by it. He did not consider the gift part of a courtship or anything of the sort. He just wanted her to enjoy it. Talk about unexpected and out of character.
"Jayne?" She pressed aloud.
"I saw them when I was out." He winced. "I shoulda knowed you'd see they were from me."
"No one else on board would have put them in my room with no note." She said dryly.
Jayne looked away. "Didn't want you making it into something it weren't."
River set the box down on the counter between them.
"Aren't you going to eat them?" He looked worried. "I didn't poison them."
The defensiveness in his tone made River ashamed of how carefully she'd examined the one she'd already eaten.
"Would you like to share them with me?" River knew he would refuse before the words finished leaving her mouth.
"No… I… You only got part of them. Ma sent me a batch of recipes. I'm making muffins to stretch out the rest so there's enough for everyone."
He was uncomfortable, River noted. He didn't want to talk about it anymore.
River smiled her brightest. "Thank you."
Jayne basked in the glow of her pleasure.
She dug her fingers gently into the mass of round berries. The crinkly flower ends tickled her fingers as she lifted a few to her mouth. She ate slowly, savoring every bite.
They were perfect. Some were softer and exquisitely sweet. Others were harder, tart with a hint of woodsyness to their flavor. The combination was sheer perfection.
The whole time she was eating, River felt Jayne's gaze on her. His thoughts indicated he didn't expect to enjoy watching her eat, but he didn't expect her to linger over each morsel either.
When the berries were all gone, River came around the counter to dispose of the paper box.
After she had done so, something impelled her to plant a kiss on his startled cheek.
If pressed, Jayne would not have been able to explain his impulsive gift. Unlike that time so long ago when he bought apples for the whole crew, he didn't do it out of guilt.
It actually started with Crazy complaining that all they ever ate was the same old protein day after day. Then, after her comments had time to stew in his brain for a couple of weeks, Jayne made a wrong turn while coming home from his 'appointment' at the whorehouse. Somehow he ended up in the market in front of a produce stall.
The blueberries were the cheapest fruit there. As usual he got his Big Scary Man discount, so it made sense to get some extra just for the girl.
Then he panicked, worrying that she might think he was giving her a come on, which he wasn't. He just wanted to do something nice for the member of the crew who had the most time for him. The one who talked to him and teased him and…
But it wasn't about courting her or anything, so he decided to just leave them for her. Except she knew. Of course she knew.
Then when she ate them out where he could see… Well, there was a stirring in his groin every time he thought about her doing that. Which was often because he couldn't seem to get the vision out of his mind.
The way she closed her eyes and groaned while she was eating haunted his dreams. Cheapest soft porn he'd ever bought.
Then she kissed him after. Well, just on the cheek in that innocent way that a sister might. But still, it was a kiss. When was the last time a girl had kissed him anywhere just because she wanted to?
The very next time they hit land, Jayne made a planned stop at the produce market. He spent more time than he intended staring at the displays of farm fresh fruits and veggies before selecting something he thought she would like.
River wasn't surprised the second time she found her door ajar. She was, however slightly concerned about the thrill that raced through her.
The third planetfall, she returned to the ship anticipating a new offering and was even more excited to find one.
The pattern continued month after month. River would return to the ship, buzzing with anticipation every time they landed. She would carry his gift to wherever he happened to be, savor it in his presence, then gently kiss his cheek in repayment. Over time, the soft caress of her lips on his cheek grew more and more intimate.
Sometimes the gift of food was just for River, like the time he bought her a real chocolate bar. However, most times Jayne bought enough to share with everyone once their private moment was over.
Naturally, there was a time when the boat had no paying jobs. Even though Jayne was out of cash, he managed to bring her back something. It took a little doing, but he found a farmer willing to give him a big basket of raw food in exchange for three hours of hard labor on the farm. That night Zoë quipped that they ate better when they were broke than when they had money.
Jayne and River still sat together often. They spoke of anything and everything - except for the presents he gave her every time they landed. They became each other's best friend.
Just over a year after Jayne began spending his wages on food, River returned to find a large ripe peach just inside her door. She held it tenderly and 'looked' for Jayne with her mind. He was in the galley.
River scampered up to join him. He was sitting at the table, expertly peeling the rest of the peaches. Then he sliced them deftly into a bowl. River knew without asking that he would sugar them and serve them with dinner.
Jayne smiled when River walked in carrying his present. These days he was more than willing to admit in his own brain that he found her attractive. He even wished in his most secret heart that she might someday feel similarly about him. But he never brought it up, fearing that their friendship might be a little fragile right in that spot.
Jayne set aside his knife and looked expectantly at her, mouth slightly open. This was the good part.
River brought the peach up to her nose and inhaled.
"It still smells like sunlight." She murmured. "Thank you."
"Ain't nothing." Jayne protested. Neither of them believed him. He wanted to watch her consume the fruit even more than she wanted to do so.
River looked right into his eyes as she bit into the tender flesh of the peach. She sucked the juice into her mouth, not catching it all. She wiped at her chin with the back of her hand. The whole time she watched him watching her.
Soon juice was running down her fingers. She tried to keep up with licking it up, but couldn't quite manage.
River sucked the nearly bare pit into her mouth, cleaning the last of the flesh off of it. Then she expelled it again, reaching forward to place it in the pile of skins and pits Jayne had made in front of him.
She lifted her hands and made a more thorough job of licking them clean. She started with the rivulet of juice that had found its way down her arm nearly to the elbow.
Jayne watched, entranced as she collected as much of the sweet nectar as she could manage.
When she was satisfied, River rounded the table and approached Jayne. She leaned in for her usual leisurely kiss on the cheek. Without conscious decision, River adjusted her aim at the last possible moment and kissed his lips instead.
Electricity sparkled between them. River experienced a wonderful feeling, almost like coming home. She knew right then that she wanted him and that she would fight to keep him.
For a terrifying moment, Jayne thought he had accidentally turned his head. He was afraid he had mistakenly brought one of his most frequent fantasies into reality. He wanted so urgently to kiss her. He had for months.
Jayne was certain it was only a matter of time before River pulled back and slapped him, but he couldn't even think of ending this beautiful moment himself. He wanted it too desperately. He wanted her, all of her.
Then River slid into his lap and ran her tongue along his lips to demand entry. All of Jayne's guilty fears faded into oblivion. He lost himself in the feeling of kissing his best friend.
Naturally she tasted of ripe peaches, but there was also a slightly spicy feminine flavor that was entirely her. It matched closely her unique scent, the one he couldn't get enough of smelling when she was close.
Neither of them noticed that his hands were coated in sticky juice, as he caressed her back and pushed aside her hair.
Eventually they both had to come up for air. They drew back at the same time and looked deeply into each other's eyes.
"I…" Jayne found his voice first but couldn't think of anything to say.
"I ought to apologize." River whispered. "Except I don't want to."
Jayne groaned, wo de ma, what were they doing? He inhaled and was distracted again by her heady smell.
"Say something." River begged. "Say you don't mind." She couldn't resist brushing her lips across his again.
Jayne opened his mouth, intending to say… well something. "I love you." Were the only words his mouth would form.
Jayne closed his eyes and groaned. Of all the stupid things to say. "Sorry."
"Hmm, don't be." River laid her head on his chest. "I... I'm not sure but I think I love you too."
"Well, Simon, would you look at this." Mal said from the doorway, many minutes later.
Jayne panicked, River winced.
"Uh huh." Her brother said, taking in their compromising position. "It's about damn time."
"Yeah," Mal agreed. "A few more weeks and I would have owed 'Nara a foot massage."