He felt as if he had been branded, even though it had been several days since River had caressed his cheek. If'n he closed his eyes and concentrated, he could still feel the gentle slide of her thumb across his cheekbone and the feel of her soft hand pressed tight against his chest.
He found himself doing that a lot – closin' his eyes and lettin' the memory slide to the front of his mind. Most times, it was there anyway, lurkin' around the edges. He'd be liftin' weights and he'd feel her touch, or he'd be stackin' things in the cargo bay and the warmth of her hand would drift across his face.
It was drivin' him nuts.
He'd tried avoidin' her for a few days afterwards, but it'd been difficult. Crazy didn't want to be avoided and always managed to be in the exact place he planned on going. It was uncanny how she did it. Sometimes, Jayne would try to fake her out in his mind, deliberately thinkin' on a place he was gonna go - like say the cargo bay, but showing up instead somewhere else – like the kitchen. Didn't matter what he tried though, 'cause he could never trick her.
She was in the kitchen right now, standin' behind Mal as he sat at the table, runnin' a comb through his hair with one hand, a pair of scissors snippin' away with the other. Jayne stood stock still in the doorway for a second before sighin' to himself and enterin' the room.
"Ya lettin' Crazy cut yer hair?"
"'Pears so," the Captain replied. "She was cutting Simon's earlier and she said she'd trim mine as well. Decided to take her up on the offer. Do I look pretty?"
Jayne grunted and walked over to the coffee pot, trying not to notice how River had firmly gripped Mal's chin and straightened his head out. "All done!" she exclaimed proudly after a few seconds, "Grooming is complete."
"Ain't a dog, little albatross," the Captain smiled at her, "although I appreciate the trim. You should let her do you as well, Jayne. We'll be in New Delhi tonight and you're lookin' a mite scruffy."
The mercenary ran a hand roughly over his head, "So? What for 'm I needin' to be all prettified? 'Sides, I ain't trusting her to come near me with no sharp objects."
"Yet, you gave her Bob," Mal smirked. "Seriously, though – you should let her cut your hair. It's lookin' a little Bozo-like. You might scare away all the whores on your shore leave."
Jayne slanted a side-ways gaze at River, before replyin', "Whores? Mayhap I should let Crazy clean me up."
"For the last gorram time, will ya knock it off? Ta ma de, but the buncha ya are downright irritatin'!"
Simon is watchin' Jayne with a speculative gleam in his eye, but the rest of them – excludin' River – are lookin' at him like he's done lost his marbles.
"Let me get this straight," Mal says, "you don't need the mule to go to the whorehouse 'cause you're comin' with us?"
"That's what I said, didn't I? That drop went way too smooth to mean anythin' but trouble. T'ain't normal for us not to get shot at. Didn't even have nobody tryin' to blow us up or nothin'. Figure I'd best stick around and wait for th'other shoe to drop insteada bein' stuck somewhere's with my pants down when the shootin' starts, if'n you know what I mean."
"Wants to keep me safe," River states, smilin' at him.
Jayne scowls, Why's everything always 'bout you, you fang-zong feng-kuang de jie?I don' want none'a ya to get hurt – it's my job to protect ya'll."
"Why Jayne," Mal grins cheekily, "I'd almost think you cared."
He shouldn't 'a stayed with 'em – wouldn'ta, if'n River's words earlier that day hadn't rankled so much.
He sits in the chair to get his hair cut and realizes purt' near immediately he hadn't thought it through properly. He can feel the warmth of her small body radiatin' towards him and his head is about level with the middle of River's chest in this position. He'd never noticed that afore, but now he thinks he'll never forget it. She's wearing one-a Simon's old shirts over them tight black shorts she likes, and the top three buttons are undone. Jayne can't see nothing but creamy skin a'course, but it's creamy Crazy-skin and it gets him wonderin'.
River's fingers feel like seven kindsa good, slidin' through his hair against his scalp, and the big man silently curses the Captain even as he bites back an inadvertent growl that's risin' in his chest.
"Purring," River whispers in his ear as she reaches for the comb, "feel it vibrating, deep inside."
"Ain't a cat, Crazy," he murmurs, shuttin' his eyes as she continues to stroke his head. He feels like he's dissolvin' and it ain't such a bad thing. He can feel the comb every once in a while, hear the snip of the scissors, but it's all happenin' from a distance. The heat radiatin' from River surrounds him like a cocoon. He can hear her breathin' as she moves around him, soft and gentle-like, and he remembers how she'd looked at him in this very room just the other day, as if he was someone important to her.
"Tin man," she sighs, "and cowardly lion, all rolled into one. How can you find your heart if you're too scared to look?"
"I ain't scared of nothin', Girl."
He doesn't think she's going to reply to that. She finishes cutting his hair and leans towards him. "Dead hair itches," she states before she starts blowin'. Her breath is moist and smells of that gorawful mint toothpaste everyone on board uses. The feel of it against his skin gives him gooseflesh. "Scared of me," she exhales as she pulls away from him, runnin' her fingers across the top of his head one more time.
He ain't scared of her, and he don't know why she thinks he is. Sure, she could kill him with her eyes closed, if'n the notion ever struck – but he knows she won't. It's the Captain he's scared of and, oddly enough, Simon. Mal'll have his guts for garters if'n he even finds out some of the things Jayne's been thinkin' about River and Doc will…well, he'll do somethin'. Simon might be pretendin' he ain't bothered none by the fact his little mei-mei thinks she fits with him, but Jayne sees the concern in his eyes whenever the younger man looks at him. Hell, he'd be worried, too, if one'a his sisters went for some hun dan like him.
But he ain't scared of her. No way, no how. She's only ninety or so pounds 'a girl and she ain't Jayne's style. He likes his women big boned and cushioned, loud and flashy. He don't like 'em with slender legs and tiny little waists and pointy hipbones that'd probably stab him worse than any ol' knife. He sure as hell don't like 'em nuttier than a peanut farm at harvestin' time. And just 'cause he decided not to go beaver huntin' don't mean nothin' special. He really does have a bad feelin' somethin's gonna happen here.
He glances up as River twirls by him again, laughin'. Her face is joyful; her eyes flashin' with pleasure as Simon swings her 'round. Purt'near everyone else is watchin' her as she moves and Jayne reckons they ain't never seen no one so graceful either. Beside him, Kaylee is watchin' raptly and Jayne can see her toes tappin' away. He knows the Doc'll be 'round again soon enough to set the girl spinnin'. He's been pretty good 'bout keeping 'em both happy.
"Ain't they somethin'?" Kaylee leans into his side, tappin' his knee and grinnin' wildly. "Never thought a living soul could dance like that."
Jayne doesn't reply, just grunts, and Kaylee punches him in the shoulder. "If'n all you're gonna do is scowl, why'd you stick around? This here's supposed to be fun, ya know."
"Wanna make sure the Cap'n don't end up married again," Jayne replies. "We had enough problems with his first wife."
Kaylee laughs like he knew she would and he hopes that'll be enough to shut her up, but she keep on yammerin' at him. "Did you know River took dancing lessons when she was little? Can you imagine being able to take lessons just to learn to dance?"
"Stupid way to waste money, if'n you ask me," Jayne mutters.
Kaylee rolls her eyes at him, before smilin' slyly, "You're just jealous 'cause Simon can dance all them fancy dances with River and you don't know a-one of them."
"You saying I wanna be a prissified, starched-up, pantywaist like the Doc?"
"Nope," Kaylee giggles, "just saying you want to dance with River."
"You been drinkin' or are ya just losin' your mind?" the big man growls. "I'm not interested in dancin' with no little girls."
The mechanic shrugs, "River's not a little girl, Jayne, and you know it. She hasn't been a little girl since those gao yang zhong de gu yang cut into her brain and made her a killer. 'Sides, I thought you liked her."
"Yeah, and why'd'ya think that, huh? That gou cao de boyfriend of yours told ya 'bout what happened in the kitchen, did he?"
"Nope," Kaylee retorts. "What happened in the kitchen?"
"Nothin'," Jayne scowls. "Nothin' a't'all."
"She did a good job cuttin' your hair. An' she didn't even seem to mind you tryin' to ignore her the last few days. If you don't like her, why'd you try to avoid her?
"Ain't it obvious? I thought that's what you did when you didn't want to be bothered by people you don't like."
"Right," Kaylee is smilin' at him again, "I always give kittens to people I hate too. Kittens and guns. And have my Ma make 'em socks and stuff."
Jayne is tryin' to think of a suitable reply to that when a hand reaches out of nowhere and grabs Kaylee's arm. "Come dancing, bao-bei!" Simon hollers at her over the din.
"What about River?" Kaylee laughs back.
"She's fine!" the Doc replies as he hauls the little mechanic into his arms. "Found another partner to dance with."
If the Doc sees Jayne's scowl he does a mighty fine job of pretendin' he don't. Instead, he takes Kaylee in his arms and starts two-steppin' with her round the dance floor. Jayne's still glarin' as he starts lookin' round the room trying to see where River'd gone.
Gorram nuisance, that's what she is.
"Looking for me?"
Her voice, comin' from behind him, makes him start and he turns to frown at her.
She doesn't reply to that, just slides into the seat Kaylee'd left and angles it a bit closer to his. She leans towards him, propping her chin on her hands. Her hair trails forward, over the knee of his britches. He can feel the weight of it through the material against his skin.
His palms are sweaty.
"Doc said you'd found someone else to dance with," Jayne finally says just to break the weird silence that's grown between them.
"I did," her voice is soft, but he hears her perfectly.
"Well then, go dance and leave me alone."
He looks back to the dance floor and watches Simon laugh with Kaylee as she steps on his feet. River doesn't move.
Finally, with a sigh, he turns back to her. "You don't scare me, Crazy."
"Prove it." The challenge in her voice is unmistakable. Jayne's gaze drops from her face to her hands, which are no longer proppin' up her chin but holdin' his own.
"I don't dance," he finally says. "I'll probably break you if'n I try."
"I can teach you," River replies as she tugs him to his feet, "Just follow my lead."
fang-zong feng-kuang de jie – knot of self-indulgent lunacy
gao yang zhong de gu yang – motherless goats of all motherless goats
gou cao – dog humping