"You brushed her hair."
Jayne stood up too fast and banged his head on the open food locker, cussing loudly and squinting at the slight figure in the oversized dress.
"Gorram it, girlie, why you gotta sneak up on a body?"
"I saw you. You brushed her hair," River stated, watching him through narrowed eyes.
Jayne slammed the food locker shut with one hand while fingering the growing lump on his head with the other. He'd gone and got himself banned from the dinner table earlier with a few off-color comments so he'd figured to fix himself a little midnight snack. Of course nothing ever went smooth. Hadn't figured on being snuck up on by the crazy girl.
"What the hell you talkin' about?" he growled. Not that it made any difference. He never could intimidate her.
River slipped silently on bare feet around the counter and suddenly Jayne found himself backed up against the counter. "On the moon, in the whorehouse. You brushed her hair while they were all planning and talking. I saw you do it."
Jayne rubbed the back of his neck nervously. Truth was he'd taken a real shine to the blonde whore that could do the most amazing things with her feet. There wasn't nothin' that whore wouldn't do for him, so when she'd handed him the brush, he hadn't even thought about it twice. And it wasn't like he'd never brushed a girl's hair before. Back home, he'd had four little sisters who wouldn't let no-one but Jayne near their hair.
"That a crime now?" he muttered defensively, not sure exactly what River was accusing him off here. Maybe she was saying it wasn't manly to be brushing a girl's hair for her? Oftentimes the crew thought the only thing Jayne knew shit about was killin' and getting off. Didn't bother him none, but for some reason, tonight he was on edge.
River suddenly made a grab for his hand, wrapping her long, cool fingers around his wrist. "Come on, come with me," she grinned, pulling him along behind her. Of course he could just dig his heels in and refuse to follow her. She was so gorram skinny he could likely break her in two with one hand.
But curiosity got the better of him and he stumbled along behind her until she was tugging him down the stairs beside the infirmary. "Whoa, girlie, where we going?" He eyed the darkened infirmary suspiciously. "Cuz I ain't about to go nowhere with you that involves sharp knives or drugs."
She turned, wrapping a second hand around his wrist and pulling hard. "Come on, you jan-doh duh ee-kwai-ro, she scolded.
The insult took Jayne so much by surprise that he let go of the railing and staggered after the kid. She was mighty young to be calling him such names. Young, but quite pretty if'n you ignored the crazy talk. And it hadn't escaped his notice that they were heading right for her bunk.
Jayne's face split into a wide grin and he quickened his pace. Wasn't like there was much choice on this ship when it came to getting some. Kaylee had her sights set on the doc, Inara looked right through him most of the time and even if she wasn't married, Zoe scared the crap out of him. If crazy little River wanted a piece of him, then... Ah fuck, no, he couldn't do it!
Jayne disentangled himself from the tight grip and braced his hands on the wall either side of her door. He wasn't that desperate for a roll in the hay that he would take advantage of some poor crazy girl. Wouldn't be right. 'Sides, Simon would likely drug him up then kill him if he found out what he was thinkin'.
"You kiss your mama with that mouth?" he sneered. River merely reached up and pinched both his nipples hard, though the fabric of his t-shirt. Jayne yelped in surprise and covered his abused nipples, which allowed River to haul him into the room by the gun belt and push him down onto the narrow bunk.
Dropping to her knees, she reached for the drawer beside the bed and Jayne watched her rummage around through narrowed eyes, still rubbing his chest forlornly. "Look, um... girl, um... River. Don't rightly know what you got in mind, but I ain't 'zactly got a pressing need to..."
He stared in surprise at the hairbrush she thrust at him - mouth agape. "What the hell?"
"Simon's no good at it. He hurts me. Inara's too soft, and she always wants to pile it all up and make me look like a gorram rag doll."
Jayne's gaze shifted from the brush to River's scowling face. If he weren't quite so scared that she really could kill him with her brain he would have laughed out loud. "You want me to brush your ruttin' hair?"
"Like you brushed hers. Strong hands. Capable, if a little rough. Highly qualified for the job, I should think."
There were times when he understood her just fine. This wasn't one of them. "Don't think so."
He tried to get up but she shoved him back down making him grunt. "What's the matter, Jayne? Scared?"
Now, that was not playin' fair, and they both knew it, for of course Jayne Cobb couldn't back away from a challenge like that. He swiped the brush from the bed and examined it closely like it was one of his precious weapons. Wasn't the right sort for hair like hers. That's what the problem was. She needed a comb really, wide toothed so the ends didn't split and make it go all frizzy-like.
"Turn around, face the door. You cry out or scratch me or anything and I swear to God I'll space you."
"Understood," she nodded, and her smile lit up the room. She settled herself on the floor between his legs, long arms draped over his thighs while he used his fingers to separate out segments of her hair.
"Okay, now I'll do ma best not to pull nor nothin' but yer hair is a rat's nest girl. When was the last time you washed it?" Jayne just knew that with proper care, her hair would be soft and warm to the touch, though right now, it was hard to imagine.
"Hmmmm that feels nice," she sighed, relaxing a little more, and letting her head flop backwards onto his chest. "You can call me River, you know?"
He shook his head and snorted. Wouldn't do to get too familiar with her. Both her and her brother were nothin' but trouble. "Eyes front!" he growled, carding his fingers through the long, tangled mess, letting it fan out over his thighs.
He enjoyed doing this. Always had, ever since Ma had first asked him to see what he could do with Laurel's hair when she was five. Kid liked climbing trees and rollin' about in the mud way more than her brothers and her hair was always an eyesore. Wouldn't let no-one near it until Jayne roped her and tied her to a chair.
River was almost purring now, and Jayne couldn't help smiling until the crazy bitch twisted around to face him, making his fingers catch in the mess of hair.
"You don't need to be so gentle either," she scolded, squirming about. "I'm strong, I can take it."
"Go se! Stay still! I can't get my fingers in right from this position!" Jayne tipped her head to one side so that it was resting on his thigh and lifted the brush again.
Simon tried, and failed to get up from the engine room floor on his first attempt. They'd warned him about Kaylee's hooch, but somehow, after the first cup, he'd totally forgotten to be careful.
Kaylee, sitting across from him on the blanket she had spread out, giggled as she watched his attempts to get to his feet. "You goin' somewhere, Simon?" she asked, eyes fairly sparkling with mirth.
His second attempt got him upright, although he had to cling to the bulkhead for support. "Much though I have enjoyed our impromptu picnic..." Again she giggled and he realized he was having trouble focusing on her. Oh yes, definitely time to retire for the evening. "I have to check on River. She needs her meds before she goes to sleep."
Simon began feeling his way along the wall, hoping that he didn't trip over something in the dark and make a complete ass of himself.
"Aww, Simon, she's a big girl." Behind him, Kaylee was sulkily putting away the detritus of their meal. "Couldn't you forget about tuckin' her in this once? There's other's that would like a piece of your time."
Simon's fuzzy head registered the fact that he should be listening a bit more closely, but it was taking too much of his concentration to make it out of the engine room on both feet. "I've left her alone too long already," he explained ruefully, "no telling what trouble she's gotten herself into."
Simon made it to the stairwell and taking a firm grip of the handrail, he began negotiating his way down. The infirmary was in darkness as he passed, so he didn't even glance in. River hated the place anyway, so she wouldn't be there. He supposed there was the faint hope that she might already be asleep. It was quite late after all.
All he tiptoed towards her room, he listened carefully for any sign that she was still awake, only to freeze a moment later when he heard voices coming from her room.
"You don't need to be so gentle either. I'm strong, I can take it."
That was River's voice.
"Go se! Stay still - I can't get my fingers in right from this position!"
Oh, God, and that was Jayne's! Feeling the blood pounding in his veins, Simon threw back the sliding door and stumbled into the room.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing with my sister?" he yelled, hands already curled into firsts in anticipation. River was on her knees, facing the son-of-a-bitch with her hair cascading all over his damned crotch.
Jayne jumped to his feet, getting both the brush and his fingers tangled in River's hair, which made her start with the cussing again. It looked bad. It looked very bad, but hell, he didn't need to explain himself to Simon, nor any one else for that matter... and he sure as hell wasn't about to tell anyone about his 'thing' for brushing hair.
"You filthy hwoon dahn, get your hands off my sister!" Simon made a lunge for Jayne, trying to disengage him from River's hair. Unfortunately, in his inebriated state, he only succeeded in toppling Jayne backwards, landing diagonally on top of the larger man, with his own hand now firmly tangled in River's hair.
"Ouch! Get off me!" River's attempts to get all the fingers out of her hair ended with her looking like she'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, and incidentally, her face was now well and truly squished against Jayne's groin.
Which was how Shepard Book found them when he stumbled from his bed to find out what all the noise was about. "Dear God in heaven, people, what are you doing?" the preacher gasped, clutching his ever present bible close to his chest. "Doctor Tam, there is a special level in hell set aside for folks that take sexual advantage of their own kin!" His voice climbed a full octave as he watched the trio squirm about on the narrow bunk.
Simon tried to focus on the blurry outline framed in the doorway. "Shepard? Is that you? What happened to your hair?"
River twisted her head round, got a glimpse of the Shepard's wild and unfettered hair and began screaming.
Jayne finally managed to tug the brush free and held it aloft in triumph. "Don't get your bible in a bunch preacher. Wasn't nothin' sexual goin' on."
River continued to scream, trying to get away from the scary-haired Shepard by the simple expedient of burrowing herself between her brother and Jayne. Simon covered his ears.
"Oh, my God!" Kaylee ducked under Shepard Book's arm to take in the scene. Jayne was lying flat on his back looking awful like he was spankin' Simon with a hairbrush, and poor little River strapped between them and clearly terrified out of her wits! "What kinda sick perverts are you?" She accused, trying to wrestle the brush out of Jayne's grip.
Simon made an attempt to get up, the room spun, righted itself and spun again so he decided it would be wise to pass out right about then.
Jayne clung to the hairbrush; steadfastly refusing to let go of the one piece of evidence that he felt sure would prove his total innocence. "Will someone shut her the fuck up?" he begged no one in particular. "I swear, I never touched her!"
River screamed some more.
Suddenly the little room got a whole lot more crowded with the arrival of Inara, Zoe and Wash.
"Holy crap!" Wash gaped, trying to cover his wife's eyes. "Hon, you best not be seeing such shenanigans. Might give you ideas."
Zoe shoved her husband's hand aside and crossed her arms over her bosom. "In your dreams."
Then Mal was shoving his way thought the crowd to see what the hell was going on. He'd come right from his bunk and was wearing only a the bottom of a pair of pale blue pajama's the elastic of which had long since given up the ghost.
His eyes widened when he took in the scene. "All right - everyone not currently on River's bed go to the dining room, right now!" Mal ordered, glowering at Kaylee as she made one last lunge for the hairbrush.
Stepping back to allow their exit, he momentarily forgot to hold on to the sagging waistband and the pajama bottoms fell about his ankles. Mal, being Mal, merely placed his hands on his hips and glared at his crew, daring them to so much as snigger. Shepard Book leaned in close and whispered in his ear "Special level of hell, along with the child molesters and murderers...."
When the others had finally left, Mal hauled up his pants and stood in the doorway scowling at the three occupants of the bed. Jayne had managed to get his free hand clamped over River's mouth so at least she was finally quiet. Simon was sprawled over them both and out for the count.
"Jayne Cobb, I'm an open minded sorta man, but hell, this little scenario gives me an uncomfortableness."
"Mal, I didn't do nothin'..."
"Shit, Jayne, she ain't no more than a child. And seriously touched in the head as well I might mention." Mal carefully approached the bed with his hands held out placatingly towards the girl. "Easy now, easy. I ain't fixin' to hurt you."
River nodded and Jayne released his grip on her mouth, finger by finger. "Heavy," she complained, shoving ineffectually at her brother's bulk. Jayne grabbed a fistful of Simon's fancy silk vest and toppled the unconscious man onto the floor where he made a small 'oof' noise then started softly snoring. River sat up and gingerly touched her hair, which was in a worse state now than it had been before the whole fiasco began.
"He was only brushing my hair," she said forlornly, gazing up at Mal through watery eyes.
"No, Jayne was."
Mal's eyes went wide. "Jayne Cobb was brushing your hair?" he looked at Jayne and his mouth fell open. "Seriously?"
Jayne flushed red and shoved River off his chest. Scooping up the hairbrush, he dropped it in her lap and shouldered past his captain, mumbling under his breath as he went. "Everyone's just gotta think the worst of me, don't they?"
River was examining a tangle closely. "He was doing a fair job too, 'till Simon spoiled it all." With a heartfelt sigh, she threw herself down on her bed and pulled the rumpled sheet up over her head.
Mal shook his head wearily. Some days, things went smooth. Some days, not so much. He retrieved a blanket from Simon's bed and threw it over the inebriated doctor, then went off to the kitchen to explain the situation to the crew. But not before stopping off at his bunk to put on some proper pants.
In his quarters, Jayne Cobb shoved the assorted junk from on top of his trunk onto the floor and popped the lid. Under the machine parts, spare ammo, oily rags and assorted weaponry inside the trunk, he finally found what he was looking for.
It had belonged to his Ma, and even though it reminded him a little of home to hold it in his hands, even though it brought to his mind memories of a simpler time, a happier time, there was someone that needed it more than he did right now.
Carefully wrapping the comb in a clean piece of cloth, he tucked it under his pillow. He'd give it to her tomorrow, once everyone had had a chance to settle down.