Two Gorram Days

By Dyce

Part One

Disclaimer/Author's Note: I do not in any way profit from the use of Joss Whedon's characters, nor would I if I could - far better that the money serve the purposes of creating more Whedony goodness. I heartily encourage anyone who enjoys fanfiction to purchase and read/view/listen to/imbibe/eat the source material, as applicable.

This story is set shortly after "Objects in Space", and before Inara announces her intention of leaving to the crew.

Jayne wasn't entirely clear on how it'd happened.

He'd gotten shot up some on the last job, and found himself hobbling around like an old man. Doc had done what he could, but it'd be a while until Jayne could move faster than a geriatric dog with three legs.

Jayne didn't see why that meant he couldn't go along on the job, on account of they were going in the mule and he could sit just fine. Captain had said no, though, and ordered Jayne to guard Serenity until he got back.

And then he hadn't got back. Wash'd showed up on his own all mussed up and bleating about how Mal and Zoe'd gotten themselves captured - again - and there had to be a rescue. Book had all but thrown Simon and Kaylee into the skimmer Wash had stolen to get back, told Jayne to look after the moonbrain until Inara got back, and been gone before Jayne could say 'what?'.

The first half-hour was fine. River went off and napped, and Jayne figured that if she made trouble he could always lock her into her room for the few hours until Inara returned.

Except then Inara waved to say that she'd be late - like, a day or two late - and Jayne couldn't drag his aching leg up there fast enough to beg her to come back before she finished the message and signed off.

Fei-fei de piyian. Maybe days of looking after the moonbrain, and trying to guard a ship it took him nearly half an hour to get from end to end of with his damned leg.

He limped into the galley and started cleaning his guns, both to make sure he was ready for any trouble and to calm himself down. The longer the girl slept, the longer he could pretend she wasn't there, and if she was a Reader like Mal said, made sense that loud angry thoughts might wake her up.

"They do." She slipped into the galley, moving soundless on little bare feet. "I'm hungry."

"Then eat." He wasn't a ruttin' babysitter. He was gonna have some serious words with someone over this the minute they got back.

She wandered into the little kitchen area, then wandered out again, frowning. "Nothing prepared. Nothing for eating."

"So make something."

"Can't." She twisted her thin little hands together, looking sort of yearningly at the food. "Not allowed. No touching the knives. No touching the hot. Simon will get streaky."

Simon getting streaky Jayne didn't know about, but he could see the point of not letting the crazy girl touch the stove or the knives. Especially the knives. "Fine. Get a ration pack out of the top cupboard. Ain't the tastiest, but you can eat it without touching anything you ain't allowed."

"Captain says not to touch. Stealing food is bad." River shifted from foot to foot. "Saffron was disgraced."

"Saffron tried to kill us all," Jayne pointed out. "Look, I said you could have one, so it ain't stealing. Captain says it is, you tell him I let you." And then Mal would be getting a damned earful about the doctor running off and leaving his sister alone when he wouldn't let her feed herself.

"That's true." She couldn't reach the cabinet where they were kept without climbing up on the counter, but soon she was at the other end of the table, pulling crunchy ration-bits out of the bag and examining them carefully before eating them a tiny nibble at a time.

He ignored her for a while, and then he just couldn't help himself. "Why're you looking so hard at it before eating it? It's just food."

"There might be bugs." River examined her latest piece, frowning. "Or bad thoughts."

"Those bags are sealed. Ain't no bugs in 'em." Jayne frowned. "And food can't have thoughts."

"Can." She looked at him from between the curtains of her dark hair. "When you were little, your ma made you apples baked in the oven. Apples stuffed with sweet bread and love. The food at the Academy was full of fear and poisons. Couldn't eat it. Have to check now."

Jayne scowled. "How'd you know that about my ma?" Damn feng dian girl poking around in his thoughts!

"You dreamed about it. It was a little quiet dream, like kitten footsteps, making silence in the middle of noise." River crunched the fragment of ration-crisp. "I didn't tell anyone."

"Yeah, well, you keep on not tellin' anyone. I don't talk about my family for a gorram reason."

"It would make you seem less tough." The moonbrain nodded wisely. "Preservation of a dangerous image is a crucial defensive measure."

"Well... yeah. I guess." Jayne had understood nearly all the individual words. "Family's private. Ain't no trouble of mine going near them, understand?"

"Yes." River got up from the table, wandering away with her bag of food. "Jayne is tough."

"Gorram right Jayne is tough," he muttered, feeling a little bit pleased as she'd noticed.

Come dinner-time Jayne fixed some protein for the girl as well as himself, figuring that his righteous indignation with the others for going off and leaving him all alone with her would be mightily weakened in moral force if he hadn't fed her. Besides, stuffing her full of food might knock her out again and the more time crazy spent sleeping, the better.

"The food is good. Better than Simon's." River had decided to eat sitting cross-legged in the middle of the table. Jayne had thought about asserting his authority to make her get down, but it seemed like too much bother. River was like a cat - she sat where she wanted to sit when she wanted to sit there, and it was mostly too much work to make her move.

"Simon's smells like ass." Jayne smirked a little. "Doc would starve to death if Kaylee didn't keep cookin' for him."

"I would like to cook," River said, looking all wistful-like at the little kitchen. "Self-sufficiency is a primary factor in functionality."

Jayne took a minute to puzzle through that. "You wanna be able to look after yourself?" he guessed.

She grinned real big. "Yes."

Now that Jayne thought about it, nobody but Kaylee seemed to make much effort to work out what the kid was trying to say. Maybe he'd have a shot at it while everyone was gone - wasn't no-one but the crazy girl herself to see if he messed up, and it'd definitely look good to the captain if Jayne went out of his way to show that Ariel wouldn't be repeating itself.

"You won't sell the girl again," she said, looking at him with that fixed stare that made him nervous. "Captain was very angry."

"Captain tried to space me." Jayne scowled. "And no, I ain't going to sell you again, so stop looking at me like that."

"Sometimes you eat the fire, sometimes the fire eats you." River got down off the table and wandered over to where his guns were laid out at the end. "Carelessness is fatal."

Jayne frowned over that for a bit, then shook his head. "Didn't get that."

"Pride goeth before the fall. Those we know because they are like us also know us because we are like them."

Jayne did get that, and he scowled. Crazy-girl thought he'd gotten overconfident, and he'd walked into a pack of trouble because the Fed he'd made the deal with was as greedy and overconfident as Jayne was. "Okay, that's enough. Out. Go to bed or something."

"You know I'm right. That's why you're mad." She smirked at him and drifted away, humming.

Two hours later, he was just relaxing enough to think about going to bed himself when he heard screaming from the passenger quarters. He thought about ignoring it - little feng dian brat could just have her nightmares - but then he wondered if talking about Ariel had brought them on, and guilt twinged in his gut. She'd looked so little and helpless in that wheelchair, and it'd kinda stuck with him. Jayne had a lot of faults, but he'd never sold a kid before Ariel.

He limped down to the passenger quarters, with a gun tucked into his pocket just in case it wasn't just the nightmares making her screech. She was alone when he looked in, though, huddled in the corner of her room and whimpering, with her arms wrapped around her head.

He hobbled in and sat down on the edge of the bed, wincing as his stitches pulled. "You awake or asleep or what?"

"Don't know," she said in a tiny voice, all muffled under her arms. "So hard to know sometimes."

"Well, I know I'm awake, and you're talking to me, so makes sense that you'd be awake too."

"Makes sense." She peered over her arms at him, eyes all big and swimming with tears. "The hands of blue go two by two, they find the toy that left its place and put her back where she belongs. Back in the box, the box with locks..."

"Ain't no hands-of-blue here, or anyone else either." Jayne frowned. "They the ones came after us on Ariel? When there was all that screamin' and you ran off?"

"Yes." She whimpered again, curling up smaller. "They walk in pools of blood that never touches them, clean blue hands while everyone who sees them cries tears of blood."

That sounded to Jayne like these hands of blue - people in blue gloves, maybe, so they didn't leave no fingerprints - had a liking for pulling out eyes or some such. Jayne had known a merc once with a thing for pokin' folks' eyes out. Jayne had shot him on the grounds of him being creepy as fuck. "Yeah, well, they show up, I'll shoot 'em before they can do anything to anyone's eyes."

"They carry a box that sings, puts out long ears and melts the soft places. Heart goes squish." River was looking at him real hard, like what she said was important.

Jayne tried to figure that one out. Singing and hearts going squish didn't sound weapon-like to him, but River sure seemed upset about it. Melted the soft places... Singing boxes... and tears of blood. That was ringing a little bell somewhere. He concentrated, and then he blinked. "Sonics? They're usin' sonics?" He'd seen a man fall into some piece of factory equipment that used sonics once. He'd come out an oozy skin full of liquid and loose bones, blood running out of his eyes and nose and mouth and ears and everywhere the skin had an opening.

River crawled up on the bed, coiling up into a little ball and clutching her pillow in her arms. "Hurts. Heard all the screaming and had to run fast before Jayne and Simon could cry blood and die."

Jayne went cold all over. Getting sucked out an airlock was the manliest death ever was compared to getting liquefied. "Yeah, well, running was a good plan. You do that again any time they come near you." He thought about it. "These blue hands... they wear body armour?"

"Don't know." She seemed startled by the question, frowning like she had to think it over. Doc'd probably never asked anything that sensible. "Their faces are skin faces, masks that cover darkness."

Jayne thought that probably meant their faces were exposed. "Bu lai. They show up, I'll shoot 'em in the face. Messier that way, but better safe'n sorry."

"Kill the box first." River was uncurling a bit, looking less petrified. "The box will make Jayne gooey."

"Kill the box, then the faces. Got it." Jayne nodded, pleased that there was a plan. He wondered how much the doc knew about the 'blue hands', and whether it'd occurred to the sissified idiot to actually find out how to kill the damn things if they showed up.

"Simon is a doctor. To kill makes him broken inside."

"Simon's an idiot." Jayne shrugged. "You gonna go to sleep now?"

"Bad dreams will come back." River huddled up again. "Will you wake me?"

"By the time I get up the ladder o' my bunk again then all the way back down here, it'll be morning." Jayne had no intention of chasing after the crazy girl all night long, even if it was getting easier to work out what she was trying to say. "You have any more nightmares, you just..." He frowned, trying to think of something, then as he shifted he felt the knife clipped to his belt dig into his side a little. "Here. Any nightmares show up, you stick 'em." He unclipped the knife and offered it to her. "You wanted to be able to take care of yourself, right?"

She nodded, extending her little hand slowly to touch the shining blade of the knife. "I won't cut you again," she said seriously, taking it in a hand hardly bigger around than the handle. "Only nightmares."

He hadn't even thought of that, in his desire to shut the girl up so he could sleep. "Well... good. And I want that back in the morning. Make the doc get you your own."

She was quiet the rest of the night - or if she wasn't, she wasn't loud enough for him to hear.

When he struggled up his ladder and into the galley the next morning, she was already there, playing with his guns. "Hey! No touchin'! Those ain't yours."

"They're shiny." River had lined them all up in order of size, and was sitting with her chin on the table looking at them. "In good repair."

"I take care of 'em." He shooed her away. "You want feedin' again?"

"Not yet. The nightmares tie my stomach up, prisoner before the execution."

Not hungry. Good. "Then git. Go... what is it you do, anyways?"

River shrugged. "Draw. Climb Serenity's insides. Play with Kaylee."

"So go do it, then. I ain't a babysitter and I ain't here to amuse you."

She went and got her drawing things, sitting down at the other end of the table and scribbling quietly. She was so quiet he almost forgot she was there, until he reached for a sweet little SuXiao pistol and she reached over to smack his hand. "Don't move it yet!"

"Ow! What the hell's wrong with you now?" The little slap hadn't hardly been felt on his calloused hand, but he wasn't happy with her getting possessive over his guns.

"I'm not finished. Can't move it until I'm finished." She went back to her scribbling, doing it faster now.

Crazy girl was drawin' a gun? Jayne reached out to grab it out of sheer spite, then reconsidered. It was keeping her quiet, after all, and she hadn't had a crazy fit yet. Keeping her shut up was worth it, so he just grunted and picked up one of the others. Since he was laid up, he figured now was a good time to get them all out, break 'em down and make sure they were shiny inside and out.

She was quiet for another half-hour, then put her pencil down. "Finished. Can have it back now."

He didn't want the gun now, but he reached over to filch the book, lifting her half out of her seat as she tried to hold onto it. "Hey, you were drawin' my gun. I want to see." He ignored her as she hissed like an angry kitten, and turned the book over.

She'd drawn the SuXiao, all right. But she'd drawn it broken down, like a diagram or something, all its parts in perfect detail.

He looked at the gun on the table. Still in one piece. No way she could see half the parts she'd actually drawn. How the ruttin' hell had she done that?

"I'm psychic." She rolled her eyes at him.

Oh. Yeah. "You ever take one of these apart with your hands 'steada your brain?"

"No." She looked interested. "You said no touching."

"Well, you can just touch that one. Just while I'm here watching." Keeping her busy seemed like a good idea - maybe if she had some shiny metal to play with it'd distract her from all the messed up stuff in her head. "I'll show you how to do it. You got little hands, so the SuXiao'll be easier for you to do."

River looked from the small pistol to Jayne's big hands and nodded. "Eminently logical. May I start now?"

Jayne was congratulating himself on his brilliance. River had been sitting quietly all morning, playing with the shiny jigsaw-pieces of the SuXiao, and then he'd fed her again and she'd eaten up her lunch like a good girl and gone straight back to the gun, fitting it all back together as easily as if she'd done it a hundred times. Jayne wondered if maybe he should have a word with the doc, let him know how easy it was to handle his crazy sister when you knew how.

Then she picked up one of the other guns and screamed, throwing it down and scattering a dozen pieces of Vera onto the floor. "Gorrammit, girl!" Jayne roared, shoving her chair back from the table before she could do more damage. "Get away from that!"

River scuttled away from the table, curling up in a corner and whimpering, her hands clutching at the sides of her head. Jayne was all set to yell at her again when he noticed what gun it was that'd made her scream. Maybe it hadn't been too bright to swipe it off that colony ship that'd been done by Reavers, now that he thought on it, but it was a serviceable little piece and he knew he had so many that nobody'd ever know where he'd got it. Well, he'd thought nobody would know. "Aw, hell. Look, just you don't touch that one any more. Or make any more mess."

"Screaming. Screaming and anger and blood," River whimpered, pulling her knees up until they touched her forehead.

"That's all gone now." He had a weird helpless feeling that he often got around River, not knowing what the hell to do about her crazy ways. "Look, it's just a gun."

She flinched away, curling up tighter, and he ran a hand through his short hair. "Look, I won't yell no more. I'm sorry." The pathetic whimpering continued, and he forced his leg to bend and get him into an awkward half-sit on the floor. "Girl... River... come on, quit it."

"I hear them."

"You hear everything, way your brother tells it." Jayne scooted a little closer and touched her arm tentatively. "Look, I'll put that one away, okay? You can play with the one I carry in my boot. That one's real little, and it was new when I got it so it won't have no bad thoughts on it."

River uncurled just a bit. "You took that one from the ship."

"Yeah. Maybe I shouldn'ta. But they didn't need it no more." Jayne sighed. "Guns ain't like people, River. They don't die when people do." He felt silly talking to her about this, but she was peeking up over her knees now, and he figured drowning out the voices by talking about something else was as good a plan as any. "Some... the best... they go from hand to hand, gettin' taken off the dead and carried 'til the new owner dies, then they move on. They're like ships. The little junkers wear out in a man's lifetime, end it like as not, and then they just get pulled apart for scrap. But the ones like Vera, they're like Serenity. She had a crew 'fore us, and she might even have one after if we don't blow her up."

"Continuity of existence transcending the human lifespan," River whispered. "Weapons survive."

"Yeah. That gun did its best for whoever owned it - it was empty when I found it, been fired at point-blank at least once from the spatters. But now they're gone, and it was just lying there all forgotten about 'til I found it."

"And you picked it up and brought it away from the dark place," River said, emerging a bit further from her hiding place behind her knees. "Cleaned it and tried to make it well again. Like Simon."

"Damn sight easier to fix up than you." Jayne shrugged, glad she wasn't going to make a fuss but a little disturbed by her going all sentimental over it. "But yeah. Seemed wasteful to just leave it."

River nodded, peering at him out of the dark cave of her hair. "Guns are easier to love than people. You can open them up and see all the parts, make them shiny so they won't turn on you."

Well, that was downright disturbing. "They're simpler than people."

"And Jayne likes things simple." She heaved a big, shaky sigh. "River would like things to be simple, but there are so many things that the multiplicity alone becomes complex." She looked around, and pouted sadly. "I spilled Vera all over."

"It's okay!" Jayne said hastily. If she actually started bawling, he'd have no gorram idea what to do. "I'll just hafta clean them again. I can put Vera back together just fine, even if you mix up the pieces."

"Because you know her so well." River nodded. "You see where all her pieces fit, and you make her all one piece again."

"Yeah." Jayne nodded, pleased that she was calming down. "Don't matter how bad you mix the pieces up, really. Long as everything's still there, you can put it back together good as new. Hell, you can even add things if you want to. Just takes longer."

"Just takes longer. Put all the pieces in a bag, jumble them up and pour dirt all over them so they lose their shine. Everything goes back together, just takes longer." She smiled at him in a watery sort of way. "Thank you, Jayne."

He had a feeling that she wasn't talking about guns anymore, and it made him uncomfortable. But he knew the doc was mighty keen on needles and shots and scans and all while being total shit at actually talking about anything, even something as simple as telling Kaylee she looked nice today. So maybe he hadn't talked to River about putting herself back together, either. "Yeah," he said, feeling dumb and awkward. "But you can't just shove it all together and expect it to work right, or it'll just blow up on you. You gotta find the right place to start, put things back together one piece at a time, makin' sure it's all straight 'fore you move on to the next piece. Takes longer that way, but job's gotta get done right if you want it to hold."

River nodded thoughtfully. "Patience is key. Take your time and make it all shiny."

"Yeah." He'd understood that, thank God. If she was making sense again, she probably wasn't so upset anymore. "Look, we'll take one apart and I'll show you again."

She nodded, and sat docilely at the table while he walked her through a procedure she probably could've plucked whole from his mind if she'd wanted to. Hearing the words seemed to calm her, though, so he kept talking, telling her little things about his girls like how this one kicked a little and that one always threw just a little to the right, so nobody could hit a target with her except him because he knew the trick. When they finished that, he was worn out with talking and took her outside, giving her Kaylee's spiral-painted paper parasol to play with while he napped in the sun.

River woke him up when the sun was starting to set, with a big proud smile on her face as she offered him a heavy, twisted stick that'd been roughly smoothed off at one end. She'd undoubtedly used his knife, which would probably need sharpening again now, but the stick did make getting around a bit easier. He decided to raid Inara's stash of herbs for dinner. 'Nara was soft-hearted - if he told her River'd had a screaming fit and all, she'd be so sorry for the little girl that she wouldn't yell at him for stealing her food.

River insisted that he check her room for nightmares before she'd go in, but once he'd cleared the room and given her the knife again she went to bed quietly, mumbling something extra-incomprehensible.

He left his door open in case she started yelling in the night again. If she did, it was too quiet for him to hear.

Jayne was feeling pretty good about the whole mess after breakfast the next morning, which River ate without a word about nightmares. He'd seen some rabbit tracks yesterday, and since they were going to be here a while - and he was getting worried about not hearing from the others yet, although he tried not to think about it near River - it seemed like a good chance to bag a few bunnies and get some fresh meat for a change.

"They swarm," River said, when he broached this idea after breakfast. "Hundreds and hundreds of little empty minds, all hunger and no thought."

"Yeah. Hey, you know where they're swarming?" Jayne brightened. He could track them back to the warren, but it'd take a while with his bad leg. If River could lead him to it, it'd make the hunting trip go a sight faster.

"Yes." She pointed at a wall. "That way."

"Good." He picked out some of the smallest-caliber guns, suitable for shooting rabbits without blowing them into a red mist. "If you're real good and don't get all crazy on me, I'll let you take a shot or two."

"Thinks killing is a reward." She gave him a funny look. "Enjoys it a little too much."

"Jayne likes things simple, remember? Life and death are simple. You got either one or the other. That's simple." He shook his head. "Anyway, you're the one wanted to be able to take care of yourself. Knowing how to find food when you got none is part of that."

River brightened and nodded. "Self-sufficiency is the goal."

She succeeded in shooting a rabbit, although she complained at length that they behaved like furry chaos theorems or something, which Jayne took to mean that she didn't like the way they bounced around. Jayne, being used to rabbit-hunting, bagged six before he decided it was enough. He'd make up a stew that'd last them a couple of days, or one good meal for the whole crew.

Inara, at least, would surely be back today. He really couldn't wait to see her. Jayne couldn't fly their remaining shuttle - Mal'd never let him, on account of he thought Jayne'd break it or steal it or something. And he didn't have clue one on how to get something as big as Serenity herself to go up. Until Inara got here, with the mule gone and his leg humped, Jayne was pretty much stranded.

"I can fly the shuttle." River had a rim of purple all around her mouth. She'd found some kinda berries she swore were good, and he'd let her stuff herself while he skinned and gutted the rabbits. "If they don't come back today, can we go find them?"

"Maybe." Jayne didn't like the idea of the little crazy girl steering them across the sky - but he liked the idea of being stranded even less. "Here." He tossed her his shady cowboy hat, which was the only thing vaguely bowl-shaped he'd brought. "Fill that up with berries while I finish up, and we'll take them back for later."

"We'll have to wash them," she said, sniffing his hat and wrinkling her little nose, but she did as she was told. All in all, the morning was going real well until River got distracted by a pretty bird on the way home and walked straight into a mud puddle, landing on her ass and getting mud over every inch of her. Fortunately Jayne was carrying the berries, and the rabbits River carried weren't any the worse for getting a little mud on them. He'd just wash 'em off a bit later.

"Well, now you're gonna have to wash you," he said a little smugly as River trailed sulkily - and drippily - along behind him. "I'll set the rabbits stewing when we get back, while you take a shower."


"What do you mean, no? You're filthy."

"Won't go in there. All blue." She sounded like a stubborn five-year-old.

"You won't go in... how you been bathin' until now?"

"Simon gets me water in a bowl. Inara gave me a sponge."

Inara bathing with a bowl of water and a sponge was all kinds of pretty thought, but he saved it for later. "Well, a bowl ain't going to get all that mud out of your hair."

"Won't go into the blue room. Won't." River's lip trembled. "Don't make me go in the blue room."

This definitely posed a problem. On the one hand, Jayne didn't want to have to clean up mud from every inch of the ship, which he'd have to if Mal found out he'd let River make the mess. On the other hand, he'd be skinned and hung up for a warning to perverts everywhere if he shoved the kid into the shower himself.

Fortunately, the bit of wilderness Serenity had been parked in was pretty green, and there was a reasonable-sized little river not far away. River protested some when he tied a rope to her and tossed her fully clothed into her namesake; but once she got over the shock of unfiltered, uncleansed water she seemed to enjoy it, paddling around and chattering to fish that might or might not actually be in there. Turned out she could swim, but Jayne held onto the rope just in case, figuring he could pull her in quick if she had a crazy fit and went under.

He pulled her out - to the tune of more protesting - when he noticed she was going a little blue, and hauled her back to the ship. Then he rested for a while, smelling the rabbits as they simmered slowly, until River slipped into the galley again wearing a loose flowery dress and holding a hairbrush. "My hair is serpentine," she said, giving him a pleading look and holding out the brush.

He looked at the brush. He looked at her. "Girl, tell me you aren't seriously askin' me to brush your hair."

"You threw me in the river. You fix it." She made a stubborn little face that was actually kind of cute. She wasn't nearly so creepifying when she was kept busy.

"No. It's your hair." A man had his standards. There was a level of sissified he just wasn't prepared to sink to.

"You did at the Heart of Gold." River smirked at him when his jaw dropped. "Your argument is faulty."

Jayne scowled. Yeah, okay, he had done it at the Heart of Gold. Helen's hair had smelled nice and he'd been in need of something simple and repetitive to soothe his nerves. Fighting in amongst civilians always made him twitchy. Still, there was no call for the girl to bring it up. "Fine. But you gotta promise you won't ever tell anyone."

"I promise." She plopped herself down in front of him, careful not to jostle his bad leg. "Don't pull."

"I never do." River's hair really was tangled badly, and Jayne took his time, enjoying the simple tactility of picking out the knots with his fingers before smoothing the brush through a bit at a time. River started to hum after a while, relaxing into his touch like a cat, and Jayne kept brushing even after the knots were gone, until her hair was a shimmering wave of silky brown. Then he looked up, realizing with surprise that they'd been sitting there for nearly an hour.

"Don't stop," River mumbled, sounding drowsy, when he lifted the brush away from her hair. "Nice."

"Gotta get back to the stew." He looked critically at her hair. "You know, if you tied that up, it wouldn't get so messy."

She twisted around, looking at him like he'd said something really weird. "My hair isn't a prisoner."

"I didn't mean tied up like that. Like... braided, or some such." Jayne frowned. "You don't know how to braid?" River shook her head, and he sighed. "Look, I'll do it this one time, but you get Kaylee or Inara to show you how for next time, okay? And don't you ever tell nobody I know how to do this."

"Will there be more brushing?" River looked skeptical.

"A little more. And you can take 'em out if you don't like 'em."

"More brushing." She got comfortable again, shaking her hair back.

He gave her two braids, which made her look less like a creepy drowned person and more like a normal little girl. Then he let her wash the berries and put them in a bowl (and clean out his hat), figuring she was safe enough with cold water and carved wood while he added dehydrated potato and peas to the stew, using a little more of Inara's seasonings. "Needs to cook another hour or so, then we can eat."

"Hungry now." River had her little nose almost inside the pot. "I didn't think Jayne could cook."

"Jayne can feed Jayne. And little crazy girls when he has to." He shooed her out of the kitchen. "You can have some in an hour. Patience, remember?"

"I remember." She sat down at the table, reaching for Lux, a machine-gun almost as close to Jayne's heart as Vera. "Show me the inside?"

"Not in just an hour." He took it away, offering her his LeMat instead. "Show me how good you can take this one apart. Careful-like."

"It's one of your favourites." She handled the gun gently, petting it like it was a kitten. "I'll be careful."

Fei-fei de piyian asscrack of a baboon.

Feng dian crazy (adj)

Bu lai good, fine

Su xiao lit. quick results.

Ta ma de damnit