Death By Spoon

-

River rarely feels the desire to go off-ship when she doesn't need to, prefers to stay where Blue Hands cannot reach unless they come through her nightmares but this time she's sure of herself and when the captain's back is turned, she slips out of the ship, the hat on her head clashing violently with her night-colored dress, one of the last things Inara had brought her before being driven off by Mal's battle scars, rotting him from the inside out because he can't bear the thought of them healing, bear the thought of letting them go.

Jayne Cobb, however, refuses to acknowledge the small shape that is following him through the mass of seething humanity.

"You know I'm back here; I request that you stop ignoring me, man-ape."

He makes a noise like a bear's growl and before she can stop, he does; in the next heartbeat, she slams forward into his back, and the feeling is not unlike running full-force into a brick wall, leaving her stunned and wide-eyed, hands flying to her face as she staggers back a step, blinking furiously.

To her relief, though, he doesn't leave her behind in her dazed state, spinning and staring down at her hard, scowling. "Go on back to the ship," he snaps and shoves her, but she digs in her heels, jutting out her chin and squaring her shoulders. "I want to see the munitions," she states, and he growls again, shaking his head. "Guns ain't for little girls," he mutters, but he doesn't mean it.

He sees her for what she is, a dancer covered in blood, and she is grateful for it.

It is hard, to pretend to be helpless in the face of 'verse; sometimes it hurts, trying to fit into skin that was ripped from her form, skin that she would have shed anyway, for a better form and though she hates the way it was ripped away, she can grieve for it only so much. She has Simon, and now she has… another one, even if she is unsure how she has this other one.

"You ain't going to go running around the ship with a gun!"

"I do not need a gun to protect my home and family, I need only a spoon!"

Sudden silence, and she bites her lip at the way he's staring at her now, hard enough to make her blink repeatedly, trying to break the contact. Finally— "Are you tellin' me you can kill somebody with a spoon, Crazy?" When she can only stare, he cocks one eyebrow and she finally shrugs, chirping, "It is easy enough to understand how the curved end can be used in a life or death struggle, man-ape—"

"Stop calling me that."

"What do you want me to call you?"

"Don't give a damn, just not that, dong ma?"

"Understood, big, bad mercenary—"

"You're trying to set me off, ain't you?"

"It is easy and fun, and the faces you make are entertaining."

He makes the growling noise again, grabbing her by the arm and setting off again and she has to move quickly to keep up with his ground-eating strides, giving him a slant-eyed look as they moved fast through the crowds. "We are not going to study munitions are we, big, bad mercenary?"

"Nope."

-

Jayne has a surprise for her.

She figures it out after they reach the Post area, and he shoves her off into another direction, muttering for her to keep herself busy while he takes care of a few things. Very few of the surprises she's had in the last years have been good but she finds herself giddy anyway, and she finally settles for wandering within his eyesight, knowing that he'll go off on a tangent if she goes missing and gets him in trouble with Mal.

"Did something die on your head, honey?" Stilling, turning, River stares warily at the big-breasted female some feet away but already wandering over, eyes glued to River's head. As the small brunette stands silently, Big Breasts begins to poke at the pompom on top, laughing in horror. "Oh, honey, where'd ya get this?!"

"A friend," River snaps coldly, deciding that smothering the woman in her breasts would be an easy and uncomplicated means of termination if she does not stop mocking the hat. Anyone on the ship, hearing the chilly tone, would have begun slowly backing away but the woman does not, still poking at it with one bright red nail, laughing hysterically.

"Do not mock my hat, please."

"But it's the stupidest thing I've ever seen!"

This was unacceptable.

With a narrow-eyed look, River snaps her hand up faster than most people could see, small fist connecting daintily with Big Breast's nose, the sudden crack filling the air as a sharp shriek splits the air, sending abrupt silence through the throngs of people, bodies coming to an unexpected and horrified still, eyes falling on the shrieking female and the small but pleased looking young woman in the dark dress.

Before River can enjoy her victory, though, a massive hand grabs her by the shoulder. "You know how they get at that time of the month, huh?" It's condescending, and River snaps her mouth open to tell him what she thinks of his comments on her menstrual cycle but he clamps his other hand across her mouth and begins dragging her away quickly from the still-shrieking female, the package tucked tightly under one arm.

"What the hell were you thinkin', Crazy?"

Again, this is unacceptable.

Twisting out of his grip, she settles a glare on him, arms crossed in front of her chest and lips twisted in fury. "Do not treat me as though I am hormonally incompetent, man-ape, I do not appreciate such crude comments about my menstrual cycles." He gives her a disgusted look, and she tosses hair over one shoulder, glaring harder. "Now give me my gift."

"No—"

"Give it!" and she lunges for it, only to smack against one large palm, other hand now holding the box high above his head. Rubbing her forehead, wanting to go back and finish the job of making the woman pay for her mockery, River tries again, only to have him shove her back several steps. "You are not an ice planet, do not act like one!"

"You can't go around acting like that, you want the Feds on you again, Girl?"

"The Feds are still after me," she hisses, glancing over his shoulder at where the woman is still shrieking, muffled by the distance but still clear in the crowds. "The actions of my anger will not hinder or help their efforts to find Simon and I." She shifts back to him, staring up at the package, and pondering ways to get it. "You shoot men in fights over whores, do not pretend to be innocent, big, bad mercenary!"

"That's different, I ain't the crazy girl with the missing brain pieces and Reaver blood on my hands, remember?!"

She's shaking, and hates it, and turns away, slapping her hands to the hat on her head, stroking it with faintly trembling fingers, shivering at the way it sparks beneath her nails. He is worried about her, and she finally exhales quietly, looking at him over her shoulder with carefully steady eyes. "The big-breasted one insulted your mother's knitting, Jayne Cobb."

That gets the proper reaction, as he shoots a sharp look in the direction of the insulting woman, cocking one eyebrow intently. "She insulted my Ma, did she?" She nods unhappily, and he offers her that wicked grin again, looking at her with something like pride, relaxing her enough to turn completely towards of him. "Good girl, can't let anyone get away with that."

In the next second, he shoves the box into her arms, snatching the hat from her head with one. The sudden loss is harsh since she's not yet braced for it, tightening her fingers around the box. "Don't ruin it, Crazy, you won't be getting another one, trust me." When she just stares at him, blankly, he snorts and jerks his chin at the box, giving her a look. "Go ahead, Crazy, it's yours, matches and everything."

Ripping it open, heart leaping into her throat as her fingers close around the knitted material, she lets herself gaze at the hat with shameless joy, taking in the two shades of blue and the white. She turns it one way and then another before looking back at him, massive smile on her face. "It has a pompom, and earflaps!"

"Yeah, I know," he mutters, stashing the letter back into the envelope and slipping it into the inside of his jacket as she beams back, smoothing her hair and pulling the hat on, nodding at herself in the feel of it, a perfect fit somehow, warm and right and it was made for her.

For her, and no one else.

"It's all mine?"

"Does it look it'd fit me?"

"No."

"There's your answer, then."

She bites her lip to keep from giggling as she tugs the earflaps experimentally, perking up even more. "They cover my ears, and do not reach to my neck like the ones on your hat does!" Fiddling with the pompom, she grins, not able to remember the last time she felt so much joy. She knows she has, in her life, but she's unable to remember. "You gave her the perfect measurements."

"Didn't give her no measurements," he chuckles smugly as he preens on behalf of his mother. "She's got this sixth sense, I'm telling you, she just… knows these things, you know?" Reaching out, he tugs it slightly to the left, adjusting the way it sits on her head, nodding to himself as he flicks the pompom with one finger, nodding. "I just told her you was little, and let her handle it from there."

"Do I look cunning, big, bad mercenary?"

"Damn right you do, crazy-girl."

-

When Malcolm Reynolds first spots Jayne heading back to the ship, he feels a surge of relief that the damn orange hat is back on his head, no longer adorning River's. It's just wrong, Jayne acting all sympathetic to the girl, and besides, it hangs down around her head like some kind of joke, as if some carrot-colored monkey was trying to swallow her head whole or something.

And then he spots River, and nearly drops dead on the spot.

"Oh, that's just the cutest little thing I've ever seen!"

Mal twists, giving Kaylee a look of such outright horror that she has the good sense to smile innocently and take a quick step to hide behind Wash, who's making a suspicious noise in his throat, hand covering his mouth. "You better not find this funny," Mal warns, but it's a losing battle, since Zoë's already tearing up slightly, the corners of her mouth twitching.

He has to admit, though, that Albatross looks happy, even if she is wearing something that looks like that on her head—

"You care to explain this to me?" he asks heatedly, as soon as Jayne comes up the ramp and gets a pleased look in response, the big man chuckling something about defending your mother's honor as he pats River on the head like she's a pet dog or something and, damn it, why the hell does she have to look so damn happy? It's making it hard for Mal to focus on his rant and how to get the damn thing off her head because it's wrong, her and Jayne being on hat sharing terms, and her putting a foot on his forehead because, really, what if she wasn't wearing anything under that damn dress and Jayne took advantage of the girl—

"I can kill you with a spoon," she states, staring him straight in the eye, and Jayne falls silent, glancing at her with a cocked eyebrow. "I thought your weapon of choice was your brain, girl." She flashes him a small but brilliant smile, eyes never leaving Mal's, never dropping the warning as he stands speechless, jaw hanging open slightly at the strange but still frightening threat. "I will not allow my hat to be touched."

"Says the crazy who snuck into my bunk to steal mine?"

"Wait— What the hell was she doing in your gorramn bunk—"

"That was different, I needed the love—"

Wash began to make an odd choking noise but it was ignored, Mal's growingly fearful threats to stay away from each other under fear of the airlock falling on deaf ears as mercenary took off in the direction of his bunk, River hot on his heels, snapping back and forth about how Mal stealing her hat was completely different than her stealing of his hat.

They would need to be separated, and soon, clearly.

Wrong, very wrong, needed to be seperated because this was wrong.