Waking up with a start and a snort, Jayne, blinking sleepily, looked around the lounge and was surprised to see that everyone had gone and left him there to his after-dinner nap. Nothing like a hard day's work and a full stomach to put a man down for the night. Oh, and some good trim, of course. When there was any to be had.

Thinking about sex now, Jayne stood up and decided the best place to be was in his bunk where he could sleep – or not – undisturbed, but when he turned towards the stairs that would lead to the crew quarters, he was startled to see Kitty standing quietly outside the infirmary, just watching, as though she had been waiting for the mercenary to finish his nap.

"Thought you was gonna sleep right through to the day cycle, man," she observed as she began to slowly descend the stairs towards the deck.

"Just about did, woman, from the looks of it," Jayne replied, and he ran one palm over his scalp to smooth his hair, concerned all of a sudden that there might be a piece sticking up here or there.

Wondering for a moment why he seemed to be worrying about his appearance, Jayne gave himself a mental shake and moved towards the bottom of the stairway, but when he reached it, he found himself literally face-to-face with Kitty, who had stopped on the second stair from the bottom and blocked his path by placing herself directly in the middle and grasping a handrail to either side.

Jayne's eyes widened in surprise as Kitty brought her face – and her lips – closer to his. He could feel a surge of adrenaline hit his solar plexus and freeze it mid-breath as the hairs on his forearms and the back of his neck tingled and sprang straight up in the air. Rooted to the spot but with every sense alert from the adrenaline surging through his system, Jayne could feel the light brush of Kitty's cheek against his as she sought out his ear and whispered, "How's about you and me go to your bunk and get to know each other a bit better, man?"

Jayne's breathing started up again suddenly, and he gulped down a large mouthful of air while clamping his eyes closed and screwing the lids together tightly. Maybe when he opened them the dream would be over and he'd be alone again, on his way to his bunk, and not confronted with the sight and smell of a live, warm and apparently willing woman. One who could cook almost as good as his ma. And who looked like she had a few of the good kind of miles on her, you know the kind. A woman who could read a man and give him just what he needed. Who could make him feel strong and proud just by standing beside him. Who could also make him feel the hot fever of wanting her, in their bed or out, just by the way she looked at him. And who was strong in her own right, strong enough to let him be a man and, from time to time, entice the boy inside him to be comforted with a sweet smile and a word or two of praise.

Suddenly, Jayne hoped it wasn't a dream at all, but when he had collected his wits enough to open his eyes once again, he found he was still on Serenity in the middle of gorram nowhere a week away from planetfall, uncomfortably close to the new crew member and uncomfortably far away from his bunk – a fact his body uncomfortably continued to remind him of – and when he finally did reply, his voice came out in fits and starts, probably due to the fact that Kitty was alternately rubbing his rough, bristly cheek with her soft, smooth one while occasionally breathing into his ear and lightly kissing and nibbling the soft depression below his lobe and the curve of his firmly clenched jaw.

"Uh, Mal…" Jayne began. "Mal…" he repeated before grasping Kitty's upper arms in each hand to push her away from his face so he could look at her.

Kitty, undaunted, tried to move her head close again, murmuring, "Now, I know you and Mal ain't got anything goin' on, man. He's pinin' fer that Companion gal. And you're a straight-up kind of fella if there ever was one." Pausing in her maneuvering for a moment to glance down between them, Kitty added, her face split in a wide cat-like grin, "In fact, I'd say 'straight up' pretty much covers everything at the moment."

Jayne was going to have to think quickly here, which wasn't usually one of his strong suits, but his brain began to click over faster and faster, almost as fast as it did when he was tracking or when he was being tracked.

He remembered his daddy telling him about how women were valuable on rim worlds because of their ability to breed but that it went way beyond that. They were human beings, beautiful and precious, each one, and were to be treated with dignity and honor and loved not only with a man's body but with his mind too. And young Jayne could see that his daddy was telling the truth by the shine in his mama's eyes whenever they trudged in from the day's work in the fields and his parents shared a look and an embrace that reinforced this empowering concept in an impressionable boy's mind.

When his thoughts sped back to the present, Jayne was still trying to figure out how to let Kitty know without insulting her that he was in his current state of arousal when she found him, not that she had caused it, and since she wasn't a working girl, the situation wasn't as simple for Jayne as if coin had changed hands. And that there were rules about these types of things, especially aboard Serenity.

Jayne, having made up his mind to deal with the situation there and then, began decisively, "Woman, we's crew, and, like I was tryin' ta tell ya, Mal don't like any grapplin' twixt crew going on on his ship."

Hesitating for a moment, Jayne added, with a pained expression on his face, "Except fer Kaylee and Simon. And Zoë and Wash, her husband what's dead now. But that all happened against orders."

Kitty frowned and blew some air out through her nostrils. "Nobody'd like to disobey that order more than the captain himself, man. Anybody can see that."

"You know it and I know it and so does the whole 'verse except the man himself, but that's the way it is. I need this job, woman, and he's the captain, so what he says goes, even if it is nothin' but ri shao gou shi bing."

Kitty lowered her chin and frowned, consternation clear on her face, as if she had been thwarted in some plan, and Jayne was just beginning to ponder whether she might be scheming something when she reverted to the expression she had been wearing before, her heavily lidded eyes and full-lipped mouth displaying for Jayne a definite come-hither message. Except this time there was also a twinkle in the bright blue of her captivating eyes.

"Well, mayhaps tonight you're gonna have to make do, man, but what about when we ain't on the ship?"

Jayne considered Kitty's statement for only a moment before the corners of his mouth began to turn up. Now, here was what those lawyer fellas called a loophole, and it seemed to fit the bill. Grinning fully now, Jayne's reply rumbled up from deep in his chest as his voice dropped a few registers.

"That there might just work, woman," he replied, the rumble turning into a slight groan as Kitty pushed towards him again.

"Normally, I'd make it official with a handshake, but I think this one calls for a kiss, don't you, man?" Kitty purred, acting on her suggestion right away by touching her moistened lips ever so lightly to one side of Jayne's mouth.

Jayne closed his eyes to better enjoy the airy kisses on his face and licked his lips with the tip of his tongue before answering. "Can't see any harm in that, woman. T'ain't the same as grapplin', after all."

Placing a palm on either side of Kitty's face to turn her just the way he wanted, Jayne planted a moist and tender kiss on his crewmate, just the kind of kiss to show a woman how she was valued and what high regard she was held in. Then he turned it into the kind of kiss that let her know that a man had more on his mind than merely an intellectual relationship. Much, much more.

After she had let Jayne pass to go to his cabin, Kitty remained standing on the stairway, a little dazed and mystified by Jayne's kiss. Now, this was a puzzler, for sure, and she tried to work through what had just happened as she slowly got her breathing under control again.

He wanted some bunk time with her, no doubt about it, but why not right then? All the signs had pointed to it, so why not right then? And why not right there, for that matter, but Kitty chuckled to herself when she imagined the awkwardness that would cause if any of the rest of the ship's inhabitants caught the two of them in flagrante delicto. No, it was better this way. By the time she sealed the deal, Kitty would be in complete control of the situation and, more importantly, in complete control of the dumb mountain of muscle that had fallen so easily into her trap. Just the way all of them had before.

Well, not quite exactly the same way, and this was the puzzling part. Kitty reached up tentatively and touched the ends of her fingers to her lips as she remembered Jayne's kiss. It wasn't the way of things, in her estimation, that men like Jayne worried about other people's feelings out here in the black. They were rough and crude and insensitive and easy to manipulate. Sure, they would protect a woman if they thought they might lose her to another man, but here was this big lummox kissing her like he cared. Like she meant something to him. Like there was a chance of love.

Shivering a bit in the ship's cool night cycle air, Kitty imagined for a moment what it would be like to let down her guard and allow a man like Jayne to love her. She let out a long, slow breath and relaxed as she replayed his kiss in her mind. Especially the end part. The part where she had felt that somehow he had turned into the dominant person in their budding relationship and she was more than willing to be the compliant one as long as this feeling that was stretching warm tendrils of emotion to her icy heart were to continue forever. And, more specifically, the part where she felt, for a change, that she wanted to love him back.

"Nah, that's not it," Kitty finally decided, and she swiveled around and finished descending the stairs on the way to her storage room. There was just time enough to check on everything before she had to start the bread for breakfast. Maybe sweetened bread rolls for her new dumb sweetie. Might be just the thing to keep him interested until they hit dirt and she could reel him in with her full bag of tricks.

ri shao gou shi bing - pile of sun-baked dog poo