BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ROMANCE

OBSIDIANAGIRL

Flight of theAlbatross
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mal/River Fic: Starts just before the end of the movie and tells the story of River and MAl toward a deeper understanding of love and flying.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 3739    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

HUGE HONKIN' SPOILERS FOR THE BDM...

Pairing: Mal/River/Serenity (background Simon and Kaylee)

Summary: Events leading up to the end of the, ‘Big Damned Movie’ and where I think two certain people might find what they lost.

Disclaimer: We all know I am not working for the networks because, like the rest of you I’m not stupid enough to cancel something as fan supported as Firefly. I’m not Joss Whedon either so I am using his creation respectfully and with much praise for the creator. Rating: E to AO Author’s Note: This is going to be a slow build but will be rated adult only. It is going to build the friendship between the two in flashes…the scenes breaks may change the situation.

Betaed by gwenfrewi72, who thinks she’s incredibly lucky to be able to do this.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mal slowly and painfully limped along the corridor toward the wounded and haggard remnants of his crew. The darkened corridor was quiet and made him dizzy with the tang of blood and sulfur clogging the air until his abused lungs thought they would burst. Walking into the midst of them, his blurry vision took stock of their wounded and battered faces, but one face was missing.

It was a face he hadn’t allowed himself to realize he would miss, a face that had in the last eight months become his albatross. The face he’d come to savor in the deeper and maybe darker recesses of his mind.

“Sir,” Zoë asked her breathing ragged.

“It’s done. Report!?” he stated firmly or at least what past for firm when you’d been shot in the back, beat to hell and back, and then run through with a sword. None of it hurt as badly as not seeing her face there with the others. His albatross… “River?”

The silence was answer enough and when Zoë couldn’t meet his eye, he felt a cold sorta despair well up inside him and then the blast doors rumbled open and there she was and he literally felt his heart stop. She was there and she was still standing, holding their ground. He’d never seen anything more beautiful, more fearfully beautiful, than her still standing there ravaged but victorious.

Their eyes locked and he could feel her in his soul and his heart started beating again. The wall behind her disappeared, and then she was bathed in the artificial light of an Alliance transport vessel and he could tell she wasn’t going to do as they ordered. When she slowly turned from him to look at the soldiers behind her, he almost called out to her, but he didn’t know what to say. They were ready to open fire and all he could do was stand and watch with his heart in his throat. So much so, that he felt he might choke on it.

“Stand down! Stand down! It’s finished. We’re finished.” Mal never thought he would hear that voice and not want to put a gorram hole through the man, but he’d stopped what had seemed to Mal as the inevitable and she was still standing.

Moving painfully down the corridor and gingerly stepping over the dead lying in tribute at her feet, Mal gentle placed his hands on her shoulders. She was trembling. Just slightly beneath her skin and he understood it was a mix of adrenalin, fatigue, and fear. They’d done all they could to make her into an unstoppable weapon, but in the end they hadn’t been able to erase who she was or her humanity.

“How you doin’ little one?” Mal asked as his hands slid slowly down her arms until they grasped the sword and ax. He tossed them, one at a time, to the concrete floor. Her eyes flickered to the bodies around them and then filled with tears.

“I- I took care of them.” She said as the first tear slipped past her lashes. “It was my turn.”

“You done fine, little albatross.” He clumsily wrapped his arms around her. “You done good.”

She wrapped her arms around him tightly and buried her face in his jacket. “Albatross the common name for Earth-that-was sea birds classified in the phylum chordate…subphylum Vertebrata…class Aves…order Procellariiformes…family Diomedeidae. Found in Earth-that-was poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, has a wingspan of 12 ft.,” she sobbed into his chest. “Twas right, said they, such a bird to slay.”

The sound of her voice broke into his heart and tightened his arms around her. “Never, bao bei…chu fei wo si le! Dong ma?” He grimaced when she also tightened her grasp about his back, but he didn’t pull away, after all what was a little pain. He felt her loosen her grip and start to pull away, but he wasn’t ready to let go just yet. Soon enough he’d crash, but right now they both needed the comfort.

“Hurt you…shot you in the back…cut you with a sword…still standing.” She said and he could tell that between the gunshot, the beating and the sword he wouldn’t be on his feet much longer.

“Not for much longer I don’t reckon.” Mal muttered as his already blurry vision went black.

“Xi niu qing wa cao de liu mang!”

The first thing Mal became aware of was the bright lights and the menacing words uttered at his side. Groggily he turned his head. He found River clad in an open backed hospital gown, staring down a familiar form.

“Get out!” she whispered and it was more threatening than had she been standing there with both sword and ax.

“A man that gets called a cow sucking, frog humping son of a bitch by our sweet tempered little River might wanna do what she says.” Mal told the man as he eased himself into a sitting position. He didn’t know what the man was after, but he wasn’t going to be lyin’ in bed when he found out. River turned slowly toward Mal, a slight smile on her face before turning back to the Operative.

Mal gave the man a hard stare until he nodded and then left. Once he was gone, Mal laid back heavily against the pillows and looked around. He wasn’t sure where he was, but it didn’t look like an Alliance medi-center or prisoner of war camp, at least not unless their standards had gone way the hell up in the last eight years.

“Wanted us in their ship for medical help…I said no we stay here…the doctors fixed you, Simon, Kaylee, Zoë and Jayne. Inara is with Zoë and Kaylee she wasn’t hurt much and Zoë is sad.”

“She misses, Wash.” He said as he felt his heart tighten at the thought of his second in command.

“He took her out of the valley shadowed by death and helped her fly.” She said as she sat on the edge of his bed. He could see the tears in her eyes and felt his own eyes burn with the need to let go, but he couldn’t. “Doesn’t think she’ll fly again.”

“Love…can’t fly without it.” Mal was surprised when River laid her head on his shoulder, but he let her stay there scooting over to give her room to lie beside him.

“Her love isn’t gone just hidden by the pain.” River murmured.

“I reckon that’s so.” He nodded and wondered why she was here curled at his side instead of her brother’s, not that he wasn’t happy to have her near by, just felt a little strange. On Serenity he’d shared space with her and they’d played games and shared meals. He even spoke to her from time to time, but they’d always been at a respectable distance.

“You understand what I am.” She softly answered his question. “Simon doesn’t understand…thinks I’m more wrong…never be fixed.”

“Doesn’t make you bad, bao bei?” He told her just as softly, shifting so he could wrap his arm under her shoulders. “Did what you had to do, it don’t make you more wrong, but a healer, like your brother, can’t hold to violence. Can’t see the difference between the hurtin’ and killin’ that has to be done, and what is just needless. He’ll see you’re much better than before Miranda.”

“If you need to talk over the things…” He left the rest of his statement unsaid, as he gently traced his fingers from her shoulder to elbow and felt her body relax somewhat more firmly at his side. He could feel her muscles tremble with fatigue.

“You need to rest, little albatross.” She nodded and pressed herself even closer to his side with her face buried in his chest and was asleep before she fully settled.

Mal remembered the hospital gown she was wearing and scanned the bed he was in, looking for a blanket to cover her with, but the only covering he could find in arms reach was over him and under her. There was one on the table to his left, but he would have had to get out of bed to reach it. He was just about to say to hell with dignity and use his blanket to cover her, when he spotted movement at the door. He wrapped his arm tightly around River and lifted his upper body ready in case there was danger, but it was just Inara.

Lying back down, he loosened his grip on her but did not remove his arm and wondered idly how long she’d been standing at the door. Deciding it didn’t matter, he looked at her over River’s head. “Could you get that blanket for me?”

She didn’t say anything, but she went and picked up the blanket and handed it to him. Watching as he shook it out, tossed it over River one handed and tucked it around her as best he could.

River murmured in her sleep and cuddled closer to him. Instinctively he tightened his hold and stroked the hair from her face and then rested his palm against her soft hair, before looking back to Inara.

“Thanks,” he said as he watched the flicker of unidentified emotion cross Inara’s.

“Mal…” She said but didn’t finish.

“Inara?” he prompted.

He was aware that it wasn’t exactly appropriate to have little River sleeping beside him, but he was pretty sure she hadn’t rested like the rest of the crew after the Fed’s came marching in and he wasn’t going to wake her just to keep Inara from getting ideas.

So, he let her stand there and stare at him, and he tried not to snap at her to get to what she was tryin’ to get at, which was hard since he was bone tired and needed to sleep.

Finally, he saw her take a deep breath and look away from him to River and then she gave an imperceptible flinch before shaking her head as she left the room.

“She’s afraid of me.” River murmured. “They all are…not you.”

“I didn’t mean to wake you up.” He stroked her hair.

She blinked at him owlishly from under the blanket. “You didn’t…her thoughts were loud.”

“So, what was she thinking that woke you up?” he asked, a slight smile on his face.

“I shouldn’t say…she’s confused…not sure she wants to talk to you about it.”

“About fearin’ you?” he asked, still absentmindedly stroking her hair.

“No.”

“But you’re sure she’s afraid of you?”

“Yes. So do Kaylee and Zoë, but Zoë she thinks she should understand because she’s a soldier, too.”

“They’ll calm down once we get Serenity back in the black. They’re just a bit tetchy after all that’s happened.” He assured her. Thoughts of Serenity brought a fresh wave of grief for Wash and sorrow for Zoë’s loss.

“Go on to sleep now. We have a powerful lot of work ahead to get her back in the air.”

River lay on Serenity’s cold floor rewiring the central circuits. Serenity was grieving and her sorrow flowed through River like ripples in a pond. She felt Serenity’s grief, the same as she could feel Zoë’s and she didn’t think her heart could take it but it was slowly getting better.

“How you doin’ up there,” Kaylee called from her spot under the main engine.

“I’m almost finished.” She answered as she checked the connectors and tested each bundle with the meter to ensure the readings were correct. She pushed the clump of wires back into the duct and used a wrench to bolt it closed.

“Yeap, me, too…” Kaylee smiled at River as a shirtless Simon came to stand beside her. “Simon and me is goin’ to purchase supplies, do you wanna come with us?”

“No, thank you…you guys go on and have some free time.” River replied as she finished batting down the bulkhead. Noting her once up-tight brother’s new laid back demeanor, she smiled as she tucked the schematic screen back into its compartment.

When neither Kaylee nor Simon answered her, River leaned out of the compartment and noticed the two of them, laid out on the engine room floor. River rolled her eyes, seriously, these two were making up for lost time and she knew from experience that she needed to make a hasty retreat or suffer through the disturbing feeling of her brother in the throws of passion.

Of course, leaving would have been simpler if they weren’t lying tangled at the bottom of the ladder. Sighing, she stretched her leg out until her foot was on the ladder climbed half way down and then did a back flip off the ladder, landing first on her hands three feet from the couple before continuing around to her feet.

Straightening her cloths, she beat a hasty retreat to the cargo bay and the busy dock outside. Inara was busy painting a logo across Serenity’s hull, so River climbed the scaffolding to sit beside her for a moment without speaking. Inara was still uncomfortable around her, so she didn’t stay long, just climbed higher using the ladder that Zoë, Jayne and the Captain used to get atop Serenity.

When she reached the top she met Zoë, who was obviously headed down, and gave her a smile when she stretched out a hand to help River the rest of the way on up.

“How are you doin’, little one?”

“Better…” River said appreciating that Zoë was over any odd fears concerning her. Looking at the sky she made a face. “It’s going to rain.”

“Is that so?” Zoë glanced up at the blue sky and bright sunshine. “Then maybe we should be heading back down.”

“Not today. Atmospheric conditions are favorable for the next two days but it will rain when we leave here. It is a natural cycle but a by-product of artificial terra forming.” River didn’t know why she always just spewed out stupid facts, and she knew the others listed that as a symptom of her craziness, which is why she had been trying to hold her tongue. “I’m sorry…facts just pop into my head and I just spit them out…I…”

Deciding that explaining was just making it worse, River ducked her head and moved to pass her, but she stopped when she felt the gentle hand on her arm. “You didn’t do nothin’ to be sorry for, River.” Zoë said a sad smile on her face. “Wash and I used to lie in bed and listen to the rain as it tapped against the outside of Serenity.” She gave a choked laugh. “He said it sounded like thundering applause for…” she blushed. “Well…I’ll see ya inside. Be careful up here.”

River watched as Zoë started to mount the ladder. River debated with herself before she grabbed Zoë’s arm stopping her. “I- there’s something Wash wanted to say…to you…I heard it when he…right before…wasn’t sure I should say…afraid to make you sadder.” Taking Zoë’s hand, she took a deep breath and then met her eyes. “He was glad to have loved you. His heart smiled every time you were near. Wanted to tell you that, but it was so quick…no pain.”

Tears running freely down her face, Zoë grasped her shoulder. “Thank you!” and then she was gone heading down the ladder. She was crying, but her heart was healing.

Serenity’s hull was warm beneath her feet and the breeze blew through her hair and it reminded her of long walks on hot sand at the beach on Osiris. Simon playing with his hovercraft, their parents sitting beneath a tent drinking frozen drinks and her dancing in the sand.

She felt him at her side before she opened her eyes. “I used to love to dance.”

“You don’t anymore?” Mal asked as he wiped the grease and sweat from his hands and face.

“It’s different now. Changed.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.” Mal said. “What happened with Zoë?”

“Told her there was no pain, and I told her that she made him happy.” She looked up at Mal from the corner of her eye. “She’s healing better now.”

“Thank you for that.”

“Their all healing now, even Serenity, but I still feel broken at night in my dreams.”

“Yeah, I know and I wish I could say it goes away, little one, but it don’t.” he wrapped an arm around her.

“Simon still tries to stick needles in me when I dream, but I don’t want them. Don’t need them to drown the voices anymore, its just dreams.” She thought of Simon and Kaylee spending so much time together. “I’m glad he found Kaylee it’s nice not having to worry about waking him up anymore.”

“Now if the rest of us could just sleep through them at night.” Mal sighed and she giggled and he hugged her to him.

“I have to listen to little Kaylee scream your brother’s name one more time, I might just pack up and move out to the passenger rooms with you.” This had her laughing so hard she would have doubled over if he hadn’t been holding her up. “Of course it’s liable to get a mite crowded when everyone else moves in with us.”

He marveled at the sound of her laugh and try as he might, he couldn’t remember ever hearing her laugh before. He’d watched her grin and seen her face light up when the crew had games afoot, but never laugh. She looked up at him with happy brown eyes that seemed to say she was glad she hadn’t forgotten how to laugh and he hugged her tighter.

“Come on, little albatross, Jayne and I got the atmo-engines hooked up and ready to go. Now all we need to do is fire her up and see what needs tendin’.” He helped her get her footing on the ladder before he released her. Then watched her until she was all the way to the bottom to be sure she was safe on the scaffolding. She was staring at the freshly painted logo on the side of Serenity’s hull.

Mal could tell there was something on little River’s mind, so he made his way down next to her. He just waited for her to speak and admired the freshly painted logo on Serenity’s hull in the meantime.

“Captain?” she finally spoke, her voice serious.

“Yeah?” he answered, just as seriously.

“Maybe Simon and Kaylee could move out to the passenger compartments and I could move into one of the crew quarters.”

Mal was surprised that he hadn’t thought of it before. The idea had merit and he just might get to sleep at night. The one drawback was that River did some pretty hearty screamin’ of her own. He wasn’t sure that would be any better than hearin’ little Kaylee.

“Don’t worry about it, I just thought maybe it would be a solution.” Mal sighed, as she climbed to the ground and boarded Serenity without a backward glance. He had the feeling that he’d missed something, but wasn’t at all sure what it was.

When he got inside, River was nowhere to be found and unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the Doc and little Kaylee. Mal wasn’t sure he could recover from the sight of the pair of ‘em grapplin’ on the engine room floor.

The day passed relatively quickly, the atmo-engines just needed a little tweaking and they’d be in the black in just two days time.

Dinner was more sumptuous than usual because Inara had accompanied Simon and Kaylee to the market and she’d added some of her own items to the list. Mal wasn’t sure why the more elegant fare made him feel angry, it just did. While the others had nothing but praise for the fresh tomatoes and melons, he was just perturbed. It wasn’t until River flitted in late for the meal that he felt his mood lighten.

“River where have you been I’ve been looking for you since I got back.” Simon spoke as though she were a puerile child.

“I didn’t want to be found.” She said as she helped herself to the melon.

“You can’t just wander off River…”

“I didn’t wander off Simon, I just didn’t want to be found.” She turned away from Simon and determinedly began to eat her melon. Mal watched the scene with more than a little confusion. River seemed angry and he didn’t know why, but he figured it had something to do with the talk they’d had earlier that afternoon.

He watched her as she ate her melon slowly, as though savoring each bite, and the small smile on her face made him resolve to lay in more produce before they made their push for the black. He thought maybe the small treat had lightened her mood until a frown marred her brow and she turned to give Simon an acid look.

“I am not a child, I’m eighteen now and in case it escaped your notice, these past few days I haven’t had one crazy fit. Just because I am tired of walking around in a drugged out haze and want to try and experience life for a change, doesn’t make me crazy. When the Captain goes off alone to think, you don’t shove a needle in his arm and strap him to a bed.” Having said her piece, she picked up her plate of melon and headed for the cargo bay.

Everyone was quiet after she left and dinner was ended pretty quickly thereafter. It was Kaylee and the Doc’s turn to do the clean up, so Mal decided to head off for the cargo bay and make sure things were secure there for the night.

It wasn’t a conscious thought on his part when he completed the tasks he’d set for himself to go to River’s room. He had been trying to figure out what he’d done to upset her earlier and not understanding was burnin’ a hole in his brain, but he wasn’t at all sure that askin’ her was the way to get the answers to his questions.

Finally, deciding that he couldn’t let things just fester or it could become a much bigger problem, taking a deep breath he knocked on her door. He heard shuffling and then the door slid open and she just stared at him. “Can I have a word?”

Giving a long-suffering sigh, she gestured him into her room before shutting the door behind him. He moved a few steps into the room and looked around. There weren’t many personal effects in the room and it could belong to just anyone and that didn’t seem right some how. Turning, he found her staring at his head, her hands on her hips as she studied him.

Mal wasn’t sure where to start, he felt so uncomfortable, not normally being one to discuss his feelings over much, he wasn’t exactly sure how to go about discussin’ some one else’s. Rubbing his hand over his face tiredly, he looked at her, she was a reader he was sure she knew what was in his head and was getting’ a little tetchy about the fact she just didn’t address his questions.

“All right if that’s how it’s gonna be…” he planted his own hands on his hips. “You got a bee in your bonnet over somethin’ I said earlier on today and that bein’ the case, I thought we should talk about it and clear things up, ‘fore they turn real ugly.” He just looked at her expectantly.

“Was that a question?” she asked as she raised one eyebrow.

“You-well it…” Mal looked momentarily perplexed. “No, but you know what I was tryin’ to say.”

“I know your thoughts, hear Simon’s disappointment, feel Zoë’s grief and Kaylee’s passion, but not one of you hears the words dripping from my lips.” She said, a look of disappointment in her eyes, as she turned and left him standing alone in the room.

“Well, that went well.” He muttered, sighing heavily as he headed after her.

She hadn’t gone very far, just out into the cargo bay. He had to admit he was glad she was making it easy for him to find her, because in light of what she’d just said things were obviously in a worse way than he’d expected.

“River…” he said as he climbed into the Mule and sat in the seat beside her. He wasn’t sure what he should be trying to say or even if he could say anything to fix things. “I’m not sure what it is you need me to say, bao bei.”

“Just want to be normal.” She said with a gentle sigh. “Want you to talk to me, use words. Want Simon to see, River, not the broken pieces.”

“Well now, I can’t speak to what Simon sees, but in my defense I guess I was tryin’ to take the easy way out. Figured I wouldn’t have to say what you already knew was in my head.”

“I’m not whole yet, but I’m not near as broken as before, like to hear the words in my ears not my head…know they are yours and not just think it.” She told him quietly. “Want to feel real and want to give my thoughts to you all without the wondering behind your eyes…is she broken today or is she whole.”

Malcolm Reynolds thought about what she’d said and he could understand wanting to get beyond the past and it said a lot about River and how hard it was for her to be broken and understand that some of the pieces weren’t fitting back together just right.

“You know when I was a little fella, I made my momma this little clay statue of a horse. I was so proud o’ that thing…I’d worked real hard to make it as lifelike as I could. Thinkin’ back, it looked more like a mutant dinosaur than a horse, but my momma, she loved that horse. She put it right over the fireplace on the mantle.” He smiled fondly and looked at River beside him. Her face was shining and her eyes were misty as she saw in his mind the lump of clay.

“One day it got knocked off and it got broke. I was ready to throw it away, but my momma, she searched the floor lookin’ for all the pieces and she put that horse back together.” He stopped his throat clogging up with the long forgotten emotions. “She fixed it as best she could, some of the pieces they was too small to gather and some just got lost but she put what pieces she had where they belonged and put that horse right back on the mantle.”

“Still beautiful to her.” She said, as she smiled at him tears in her eyes.

“Yes, bao bei, even though there were parts missing and exposed edges it was still beautiful to her.” He wondered if she understood what he’d tried to say. Hell he wasn’t even sure he knew why he’d told her that story.

“You’re telling me that Simon loves me even without all the missing bits they took from me…” she cocked her head to the side and looked at him quizzically.

“I thought you wanted to hear me say it.” He countered, feeling a bit embarrassed by the things he’d told her about himself. “I don’t expect you to go blabbin’ that story all over the boat, now.”

“You can trust me, Captain.” though the half smile had him worried. “Sometimes you can’t find the words, but I know what you’re thinking.” She said soberly as though it was obvious. “Just remember, I like to hear you say it and from now on I’m not going to make it so easy on you.”

Mal smiled down at her, “I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier about Simon and Kaylee movin’ out here to the passenger quarters. You still interested in taking crew compartments?” She simply nodded and he put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her to him. “Come on then, not much we can do for tonight, but if we hold the meetin’ now, maybe then everything will be sorted by the day after tomorrow when we leave atmo.”

“If you’d listened to me when I first brought it up, you could be enjoying a nice quiet night.” She arched her brow at him as he took her hand and helped her out of the mule.

“Girl you got a cruel streak.”

“The truth hurts. I didn’t make it true.” She said as she flounced off and headed up the stairs to the kitchen.

For some reason it made him smile her smart mouth ways even as he realized that she was going to cause him no end to trouble.

River put a pot of water on to heat while they waited for the crew to assemble in the dinning area. She could tell that the Captain was feeling a little uncertain about how to handle the moving issue with Kaylee. She felt his affection for his mei-mei, as he often thought of Kaylee in his mind, and she felt his desire to see her happy. That was one of the things that she liked about Captain Malcolm Reynolds, he cared for his crew, even Jayne.

He was a great leader…Jayne didn’t think so and neither did Inara. Jayne thought that because things didn’t always go as the Captain plans it made him a bad leader, but in reality it was just the ‘verse twisting him about and tryin’ to break him, but the harder she twisted the stronger Mal Reynolds became.

Inara was a different story. She’d assigned Mal Reynolds to a round hole when he was obviously a square peg. It surprised River that a woman like Inara, having been trained to look into people and give them what they wanted, could never figure out what the Captain needed. She continually tried to use her arts on him. He wasn’t one to be swayed by threats of leaving and wily ways, it was too bad Inara hadn’t figured that out yet.

River was stirring water into the two mugs in front of her when Simon walked into the dinning room. When he headed in her direction, she picked up the cups and then skirted the counter avoiding him. The Captain was standing at the head of the table chatting with Zoë and he looked up to meet her eye as she handed him his cup. “Thanks, little one.”

He took a sip of coffee and gestured for everyone to have a seat. River climbed onto her favorite stool to the left of the Captain and cradled the warm cup in her palms.

“Okay, I guess ya’ll are wondering what is so important that I would cut in on our down time to handle it.” He said as he glanced at each person in turn before settling on Kaylee.

“Little Kaylee, I hope you know that I’d never do or say anything that might hurt you.”

“I know it, Captain.” She gave him a large smile full of light and a bit of worry.

“That bein’ said, tomorrow we are going to be making some changes in the sleeping arrangements.” He stopped and took a sip of coffee, his eyes meeting River’s over the rim and he felt a little less anxious about what he was about to say. “Little Kaylee we’re gonna be switching your room with River’s…”

“But Captain…” Mal held up a hand to stop Kaylee’s complaint.

“…Mei-mei this isn’t on the table to for discussion. You and the Doc, you’ve been getting on fine and I think we all here are glad of that.”

“River is my sister,” Simon began.

“I ain’t questioning that either, but I think I can speak for the rest of the crew when I say that we’d rest a bit better easier at night with this new arrangement.” He put his cup down and moved a bit closer to River.

“River,” Simon gently laid his hand on her shoulder, his eyes questioning.

“No, Simon…” she shook her head. “It was my idea. The Captains just making the decision that’s best for all of us.”

“How can you say that?” Simon looked hurt.

“Simon, things changed for all of us.” Her eyes met Zoë’s sad ones before turning to smile kindly at Kaylee. “You and Kaylee deserve to get what happiness you can pull from the ‘verse and you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“Captain what if River wakes up in the middle of the night?” Simon came around the table. “What if she needs a smoother? If she’s up here in one of the crew compartments…”

There was something about the Doctor getting in his face again that put Mal on edge and the way that the Doc assumed he was the only one that could be of use to River irked him even more.

“I think little River’s been doin’ just fine this last week all by her lonesome. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy you and Kaylee are getting on so well, but tell me Doctor, who was watching after River while you been up here nights?”

Simon looked shocked and then very shortly he backed away from Mal. “I-I didn’t…”

“I’m not trying to make you feel badly about livin’ your life and I know for fact and certain that River isn’t trying to either, but I think that she’s ready to step out, make her own way.”

“Simon, I know I’m not fixed yet and maybe…never. You helped me, Simon, brought me home.” She took his hand and smiled into his sad eyes. “I’ve been locked up so long. I need to be free now.”

“River I just want what’s best for you.” Simon told her.

“I know and I want the same for you. I’ve been better; it isn’t the same as before. Just dreams now, not like before.” She told him earnestly and then glanced at Zoë and the Captain who gave her a nod of encouragement. “The Captain and Zoë can understand what I’ve become…can help me more than smoothers.” She turned back and pleaded with him. “I need this, Simon.”

Simon sighed heavily but finally nodded. “Okay, fine, despite my reservations I’ll help you move your things tomorrow.” He looked at the Captain. “I’ll leave a smoother with you incase it becomes necessary.”

“I got no problem with that.” Mal’s gaze shifted to Kaylee’s. “You okay with the move, Kaylee? If you ain’t, I’ll repair the fifth berth.”

Glancing at Simon a little uncertainly, Kaylee shook her head. “’S long is I got a place to call my own I’ll be a-okay, Captain.”

“Good now that we got that settled, how’s about we all get some rest.” Mal said as he drained his cup and picked up River’s empty cup before carrying them into the kitchen to rinse them out. “We’ve got us a heap of work to finish if we’re gonna get out from under the Alliance’s foot the day after tomorrow. So, get some sleep.”

Mal wasn’t sure why he was still wandering around the ship. He’d sent the rest of the crew to bed hours ago and he was bone tired from the work he and Jayne had been doing the last seven days, but still he was walking the ship.

Running his hand along the wall, he let the calm that Serenity always gave him seep into his skin. The environmental controls were set to night and unlike the unnatural darkness that had enveloped the ship the last few days, Serenity was once again humming with life.

Mal wasn’t even aware of where he was headed, but when he pulled himself out of his thoughts he found himself standing in front of River Tam’s quarters. He simply stared at the door, his thoughts on River. She’d been through more than her fair share of hardship and he was glad she was feeling better.

“Come in and stop thinking so much.” He started at the sound of her voice through the door. He slowly slid the door open and peered at her through the door.

“Thought I said to get some sleep.”

“Thought you were tired,” She countered. “At least I’m a step closer than you are Captain, I’m actually in my quarters.”

“Yeah, well…” He glanced around the room with a tired sigh. “I don’t exactly know why I’m here…”

“Because Serenity’s humming again and you want to fly, but you’re worried about the rest of us.”

“I guess that could be it.”

“You know it is.” She smirked at him. “You don’t have to worry about me, but it’s hard for you. I understand.”

“Does that mean you aren’t gonna kick my gorram ass?”

“Not today.” She said simply, a gentle smile on her face. “Go to bed, Captain.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he turned and stepped out of the room. “I guess I just wanted to make sure you weren’t too alone.”

“Good night.” River called as he started to slide the door closed.

“Night, bao bei,” the softly spoken words warmed her center. Placing her hand against the wall she smiled at the gentle hum that vibrated through her fingers. They were gonna be just fine, she could feel it.

The next day was indeed busy as the crew worked to put the finishing touches on Serenity and get her squared away so they could get the gorram hell off Mr. Universe’s moon.

Mal had to wonder at the wisdom of allowing the good doctor to help Kaylee in the engine room, what with their preoccupation with each other. In the end it couldn’t be helped. Mal and Jayne spent the better part of the day running around adjusting wires and cables while Zoë and River took care of moving Kaylee’s things into River’s room. Moving River wasn’t a problem since she barely had anything to call her own.

When Zoë saw how few possessions the girl had, she felt guilty. River had been on Serenity for eight months, she’d arrived with nothing and it looked like that in that time she had only acquired one small box and three borrowed outfits. Zoë wondered how a girl who’d grown up with virtually everything could be happy with so little. It must be hard.

“Not hard.” River said quietly beside her. “Serenity is home. Makes me happy, makes me free.”

Zoë gave her a gentle smile as she lifted the box and gestured for the other girl to follow with her clothing. “Come on let’s finish up and then we can go to the market for Mal. Seems the Captain suddenly has a taste for melon.”

Inara went with River and Zoë to the market. They bought tomatoes and melons and also picked up some more dry goods, just to be on the safe side. Inara purchased some plums and the three had them for lunch, as they wandered through the food and clothing stalls.

Zoë stopped at a clothing stall when she saw River admiring a red and white paisley dress and purchased it. Smiling she handed the dress to River.

“Thank you, it’s beautiful.”

“You’re welcome, little one.” Zoë smiled. “Come on, let’s get going.” She started to move off toward the other clothing stalls, but stopped when River put her hand out to stop her.

“This way,” she said as she headed in the opposite direction.

Inara looked questioningly at Zoë, as they followed after the girl. “She seems better, but at night I still hear her screams. Are you sure it was the right thing moving her to the crew quarters?”

“The Captain seems to feel she’s on the mend and I have to admit she seems more settled, more focused than she ever has been before.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“What?” Zoë asked as she watched River weave her way through the throngs of milling people through the market.

“I mean you aren’t worried that she might be a danger?” Inara asked her eyes troubled. “You saw what she…”

“Yes, Inara, I saw and it looked to me like she was savin’ our lives.” Zoë’s eyes glittered as she looked at the Companion. “River didn’t do any more than me or Mal would o’ done in her place. Sometimes a person ain’t given a choice and the only thing left to them is to do what needs doin’.”

“I just worry that maybe Mal isn’t always thinking clearly where River is concerned. He seems changed since I left.”

“You were gone three months, Inara, that’s a long time.” Zoë frowned and then met the other woman’s eyes. “Here comes the Captain and Simon.”

River stood staring wide-eyed at a beautiful stained glass mobile. “It’s beautiful,” She breathed. Gently she raised a trembling finger and traced it along the slick colored glass, it’s pieces linked together with lengths of fine chain.

“It surely is at that.”

River jumped. Startled, she’d been so entranced by the vivid red, blue and green bits of glass that she’d drowned out all her surroundings and hadn’t even realized the Captain was standing beside her.

“They’re broken, but still beautiful.” She murmured, her eyes and fingers still caressing the pretty bits of glass.

Mal just stood there watching her stroke the little bit of frippery. “How much,” he asked the woman sitting behind the display. When she quoted a price he knew was too high, Mal simply reached into his pocket and paid for it. His mind was screaming at the impulsiveness of his actions, but when he saw the tearful smile on River’s face he knew he would have paid double to put that look of happiness on her face.

Neither of them noticed the troubled, watchful eyes that followed them as they left the stall to join Simon and Zoë. Inara frowned as she remembered the odd mix of emotions that seemed to flow over Mal’s face as he’d watched River cradle her new gift lovingly to her chest. The look on the young girls face was so obvious that it was embarrassing.

Sighing, Inara watched as River tugged Zoë and Mal toward another stall. She watched as the three joked and laughed about the bobble-headed geisha dolls, while Simon just watched his sister with a happy, proud light in his eyes. When Zoë shook her head at their antics and headed away, Inara watched Mal hug the girl to his side and laughing they followed. She’d tried to talk to Zoë about Mal and River, but she’d pretty much been shut down.

She would have to talk to Simon and Mal about the crush River was working on or things might get out of hand. Men like Mal didn’t understand the inner workings of a woman’s mind, much less the mind of a troubled teenage girl. He probably didn’t understand the look on the girl’s face and if he did then he was probably enjoying the flattery to his male ego.

Inara trailed after the others, her mind working in so many directions that she was barely aware of anything else around her. She watched as River and Mal disappeared inside Serenity, and Simon and Kaylee shared an enthusiastic greeting, while Jayne helped carry the newest batch of supplies to the pantry.

She was still standing in the middle of the cargo bay when Mal jogged down the stairs and rummaged through a tool box before coming up with the items he required. When he turned to head back up the stairs, she called out to him, “Mal.”

“Inara?” he asked when he turned back to her and watched her approach the bottom of the stairs.

“I have a matter I would like to discuss with you, could we go to my shuttle?” She nervously glanced in the direction of the shuttle.

“I’m a mite busy at the moment, so hows about I finish this up and then I’ll meet you there.” He nodded toward her shuttle and then continued up the stairs without waiting for her answer.

His attitude towards her was confusing. He acted like he still had feelings for her, but he still seemed off to her. Her eyes followed him and she felt her own inner turmoil rise to the surface.

She’d left Serenity three months ago because she was angry with Mal for sleeping with one of her good friends, Nandi. It hadn’t mattered that when he lost Nandi the next day it put him in a truthsome mood. It didn’t matter that his night with her once best friend had even given him the push he needed to admit his true feelings for her. She’d been hurt and instead of letting him open up and confess his feelings, she’d set about to prove she was stronger than he, that she could hurt him more than he had hurt her.

Even to this day she could not admit to herself that the duality in her thinking was flawed. After all, Mal had slept with only one woman in the two years she’d known him and she’d been with many more partners than that. Yet she’d felt betrayed by him, she admitted with a sigh and went to her shuttle to prepare for her meeting with Mal.

She was woman enough to admit that it was because Mal chose to be with Nandi that set his actions apart from her own. She was a businesswoman and her actions with the men that contracted with her were, just that, business, but Mal, Mal had chosen to find pleasure with Nandi and that was the icy stone in her heart.

Mal finished mounting the hook over River’s bunk and tossed the drill to the mattress beneath his feet. River carefully lifted the mobile from the box and climbed gracefully onto the bunk beside him, before offering it to him reverently.

He smiled at her as he took it and hung it from the hook. The compartment lighting shone through the colorful bits of glass and caused a shower of colored light to dance about the dreary grey walls. Instantly, the room seemed more hospitable.

“There now, ain’t that somethin’?” Mal said, as River reached up and gave the mobile a gentle nudge and set the colors dancing.

“They promised me I could still dance.” She said out of the blue, her eyes watching the color on the walls. “I like the colors when they dance. Reminds me of what it was like, before they took the music away.”

Mal gently brushed River’s hair behind her ear and then grasped her shoulder just as gently. Her smile was soft and beautifully peaceful, and it tugged at his heart as Serenity rumbled to life all around them. River’s eyes closed and she reached over and grasped Mal’s shirt.

“Listen isn’t that beautiful?” she whispered. “I can almost hear the music.”

“It is bao bei!” He ran his thumb over her collarbone, his eyes on her face. She was so soft. It was that thought that had him jerking his hand from her shoulder and taking a step back. He’d forgotten he was standing on her bunk and would have fallen, had she not been still holding his shirt. Righting himself and gently extracting her fingers from the material, Mal stepped off the bed and headed for the ladder. River stopped him before he could make his escape with a gentle hand on his muscled arm.

“Captain, when the music is finished we’ll dance.” She promised as she slid her hand from his arm and let him go.

When his booted feet disappeared from her ladder, River smiled. He was beginning to understand, but there were things he needed to finish before the music could play between them.

Mal tossed the drill into the toolbox and headed out into the night for a walk. He needed time to think and to get his mind straight. River was more stable than she had ever been, it didn’t stop her from talking all metaphorical like and scaring the gorram hell out of him. If it weren’t so traumatizing to River, he’d almost prefer that she was spouting off all morbid and creepifying. Almost…He was truthful enough with himself to at least admit that.

There were some powerfully frightening things running through his head of late. During the day he didn’t have much time for thinking, but lately at night he found that the time he usually spent thinking on his feelings for Inara, were spent contemplating the soulful eyes and deadly grace of River Tam.

She touched him down deep where he lived, the hidden part to which only Zoë had ever been privy. He cared for every one of his crew, but Zoë, well Zoë was the only thing besides his gun and coat that had made it out of the war in tact. They’d fought and killed and together they had pulled each other from the carnage of Serenity Valley. A bond like that had to be earned.

Little River had earned her bond with him here on this God forsaken rock, but it had been formed and strengthened with every day that past since Jubal Early set foot on Serenity. Here on this moon, he’d seen the gossamer traces of her spirit breaking free of the tangled web she’d been bound by. If not for Miranda, she might have been caged and broken still, but her courage beat against the darkness and she broke free.

He’d found he could respect the intrinsic loyalty, honor and love she showed them. That she’d chosen them to be her family, and that she’d risk her body, mind and soul to keep them safe and that made her beautiful to him.

His mind wouldn’t let him push her back into the box he’d designed for her that first time he met her. She couldn’t be relegated to the box labeled, ‘crazy/creepifying sister of the Doc’, anymore. His mind was filled instead with her eyes, her lips, her voice and her innocent ways.

He couldn’t help but think that he was a bad, bad man when he felt his heart skip a beat and his skin warm at the thought. With a groan, he covered his face and turned back toward his ship.

The ion cloud pulsed with electricity and glowed eerily behind her, but she stood her ground. Serenity wasn’t broken and though her crew was battered, some lost, they would all be carried away from this cursed piece of rock and she’d hold them safe. He was almost back to Serenity when the rain started and he ended up soaked through to the skin by the time he stepped up onto the ramp. He was met with the sight of a laughing Kaylee and River pulling a frowning Zoë behind them.

“What in the sphincter hell are you three doing?” Mal called as River and Kaylee plunged into the rain and dragged a now laughing and squealing Zoë into the downpour.

“River likes to dance in the rain, Capt’in. Simon says she used to always dance about in it back on Osiris.” Kaylee called as she ran along behind River in the now water logged human chain. When they came to a stop, River took Zoë in her arms and danced with her, before giving her a hug and pulling away.

Mal was shocked when the normally uptight doctor jogged by. Scooping his sister into his arms, he danced her around the wet concrete floor to Zoë. Grabbing her, he danced her over to Kaylee. Grabbing Kaylee, he started dancing wildly around the dock.

Laughing, River grabbed Mal’s hand and dragged him out into the rain and placed him firmly within Zoë’s arms. Mal’s laughter rumbled in his throat, as he followed the frantic dance the doctor had set. They danced like that, laughter and their joy ringing in the air until the Doctor and Kaylee got distracted and Mal and Zoë stopped exhausted. He didn’t let Zoë go right away, he hugged her to him as he found River with his eyes.

She stood slightly alone and at first he thought she looked sad, but then he realized she was dancing and as she lifted her self onto her toes and began to flutter to and fro, the sadness fled and a smile so pure and light shone across her face.

She danced and Mal could only watch as she moved gracefully, her body flowing as though she’d become one with the wind and the rain. She was beautiful and it was easy to see that Simon hadn’t just been bragging when he spoke of the natural grace and aptitude his sister had for dance. Her dress clung wetly to her skin and her hair stuck against her face and throat as she began to spin.

She whirled and whirled in place faster and faster until suddenly she stopped, bent foreword and cried. Mal moved to go to her, but Zoë held him at her side with a small shake of her head.

“Mei-mei,” Simon called softly.

Her brother’s voice startled her and she physically jumped, before calming herself and standing tall once again.

“I’m alright, Simon, it was just the joy. The moment was so happy it hurt.” Mal watched her brush her hair from her face and neck before walking gracefully up the ramp and onto Serenity.

When she was out of sight Mal turned to Zoë meeting her eye. “How’d you know?” he asked with a voice rough as sand paper.

“Contrary to popular belief, I was a girl once.” She smiled sadly before stepping out of his arms and heading onto the ship.

He then spotted Inara standing just inside the cargo door as Zoë passed. She had a frown on her face and he couldn’t read her mood. He thought he might have seen disapproval in her eyes before she masked it under her usual companion facade. He’d been caught up in his own thoughts and had forgotten his promise to join her in her shuttle for a discussion. Now, he moved to join her but she backed up a step and then regally climbed the stairs to her shuttle before closing the door with a final glare over her shoulder at him.

Mal felt his chest tighten with anger. This wasn’t the first time she’d pulled a stunt like that. Whenever she felt wronged, she would pull out that condescending look and walk away making sure he knew she was judging him and found him lacking. It was pure feminine wiles and it grated against the bone like a rusty serrated knife. Frowning up at the closed shuttle door, he turned away. He wouldn’t be panting after her tonight, if she wanted to talk so gorram bad she’d better get it in her mind to use her mouth and not them fancy manipulations she was schooled in.

He’d just mounted the stairs to his bunk when River’s nee Kaylee’s, compartment opened. He couldn’t say why he stopped and just stood watching as she climbed up into the main corridor, he just did. Her hair still clung to her pale arms and neck, but she was dressed in a new red and white paisley dress. She looked fresh and happy.

She was barefoot again and he had to smile at that. She was at her most free and most endearing when she was sprawled over Serenity’s decks, hair hanging loose and her feet bare.

Frowning, he watched those feet turn toward him and make their way slowly and gracefully to stand a few feet from him. Slowly Mal traced his eyes upward, taking in the healing scrapes on her feet and legs before following the line of the sundress to her throat. She was a warrior, like Zoë, like him and she was graceful. When his eyes reached her face, he saw the knowing smile on her lips and felt his heart lurch.

With her hair in a wild, tangle down her back and the flush of an unconstrained spirit on her cheeks, she reminded him of the women on Shadow. Taking life as it came and living it without reservation, simply taking what life offered and wringing all the hope, love and happiness from it, real women working hard and loving harder to make life worth livin’.

“Can’t have both,” River told him seriously as she raised her soft fingers and smoothed them over his bristling cheek. “Have to choose…wild and free, like flyin’ in the black or cultured and restrained, like worshiping in marble shrines.”

River smiled and headed for the kitchen area and Mal followed her with his eyes. At the door she turned and smiled, her hand caressing Serenity’s bulkhead, “Wants to fly and be truly free. Decide.” Then she was gone and he was climbing down into his bunk, his mind busily trying to ignore the fact he’d understood every word out of little River’s mouth.

Trouble was she knew his mind, knew what he’d been thinkin’ as he watched her and knew he was conflicted. Instead of pulling a cloak of wiles about her, she simply told him plain that he’d have to choose.

Stripping his wet cloths from his body, he thought about the way things had begun to change, some of the changes good, like River havin’ a bit o’ peace and gettin’ her mind in order. It was the bad ones that had been interuptin’ his sleep, like the Shepherd and Wash dyin’ the way they did. He worried about his crew, Zoë in particular. They were all grievin’ in their own right and tryin’ to reclaim what little life and happiness they could.

Kaylee and the Doc were well on the way to reclaimin’ everyone else’s fair share, too. Mal smiled indulgently as he buttoned his pants and slid the suspenders onto his shoulders. That there was one of the good changes, because of all the souls on his boat little Kaylee deserved a bit o’ shiny to carry her through the black. He never wanted to see the day that little Kaylee looked out at life and couldn’t find the shiny side of it. That day, that would most like be the day that would end them all.

Pensive as he buttoned the cuffs of his sleeve, he ascended the steps to the main deck. He needed a drink.

Mal wasn’t a man to be crossed and at the time he let it go, seeing as some good came of River gettin’ free. The timing hadn’t been right since they found him out cold in the dining room, but Mal knew that he would have to settle that little indiscretion before Serenity took to the black again.

So, when he found Jayne alone in the galley after he changed from his wet cloths, he figured it was finally the right time. They weren’t caring for their hurt, burying their dead, or building their home at the moment. It was finally that time, and Mal figured Jayne thought he’d skated by this last betrayal.

The man had been wary and confrontational directly after they revived him and the Doc to hear about Miranda. He’d fallen back into his roll of mercenary while at Haven and during their time on Miranda, and had even acquitted himself well during the fighting here on this moon. He’d been helpful in rebuilding Serenity and had stopped giving Mal wary looks as though he was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was the perfect time to make the boundaries clear.

Retrieving a cup from the cupboard, he walked over to the table and without a word poured himself a draught of rice whiskey. Lifting his cup, he stared hard at its contents, “Been a mighty interestin’ time.” He tossed the contents to the back of his throat before settling his gaze on the other man. Mal could see realization dawning as he watched Jayne swallow the whiskey in his mouth convulsively.

“That it has, Mal.” Jayne’s voice was quiet and he stared Mal in the eye, watching for any sign as to how things were going to go.

“You know I believe I made myself clear on Ariel, how things was goin’ ta go if you ever crossed me again.” Mal deliberately poured Jayne and himself another shot of whiskey before knocking his back in one swallow. He never took his eyes off of Jayne’s.

“You did, Mal.” He said as he slowly raised his glass and sipped the whiskey, his eyes nervous over the rim.

“I’ve had me a fair amount o’ time to think about what I was gonna do to you.” Mal’s voice was quiet, menacing. “Thought about strappin’ ya to the nose for up thrust or just outright shootin’ ya, I have to admit I was a mite disappointed that you forgot what was said back on Ariel.”

“I ain’t forgot, Mal.”

“Well, now that’s funny,” Mal chuckled as he put his cup down on the table and tapped his finger rhythmically on the rim of the cup before dropping his eyes from Jayne’s. “That little scene in the common room,” Mal looked at him and his eyes glittered like death on a raven’s wing. “The next time it happens I won’t be arguin’, I’ll put a bullet in ya and it’ll be done with. You wanna fly with me, you do as I say and if I even think you’re tryin’ to cut me down or hurt what’s mine, I’ll kill you no questions! No explanations!”

“But…”

“We came out of this one and it is more than likely we are gonna have us a heap o’ trouble rainin’ down on us.” If possible Mal’s voice became more menacing. “River is under my protection and if she doesn’t put you down permanent next time, I will! Don’t make the mistake of thinkin’ I can’t do it, or I won’t.”

“Mal…” Jayne put on his reasoning voice.

“There is no discussin’ it, tonight you tell the others what you did on Ariel and if you can’t do that, I want your gear packed and you off my boat before up thrust tomorrow.”

Jayne sat as though nailed to his chair after the Captain left him sitting there, but he flew out of it when he heard the quiet voice from behind him.

“I can see you.” She whispered. “You don’t need to worry, I like you the same as the others do. We can be family Jayne Cobb and we can keep each other safe. He sees the good in you. He sees the potential in all of us or he wouldn’t have let us be in Serenity, but I see every thought in your brain, Jayne Cobb. It’s like writing on the page…hurt him again, betray his trust and belief in you and he won’t have to live with killing you, because you’ll already be dead. You’ll do it yourself. You’ll go down on Vera and she’ll blow you away…You won’t even give it a second thought…Don’t break him or I’ll show you what I can really do, dong ma?” River gently ran her fingers down Jayne’s face and she smiled when she saw the understanding in his mind. “Good.”

Quietly she drifted from the room, leaving the man to pour himself another drink with a trembling hand. Well, Jayne’s confession had gone smoother than Mal anticipated, Simon and River had already known about Jayne’s penchant for getting’ stupid. Simon had obviously heard about it from River, him bein’ clueless and all, and her bein’ a gorram reader. Zoë just nodded, as though her suspicions had just been confirmed. Inara’s only reaction was a delicate arching of her penciled brow.

Little Kaylee’s response was the one that floored him, though, she’d thrust her chair back as she rose from the table and then pegged Jayne hard in the head with her half eaten apple. She then turned and stormed out of the dining room curses flying behind her. Simon paused for a moment to make sure Jayne was all right, and that the fruit hadn’t done any permanent damage before following Kaylee out of the room.

She was calling Jayne all manner of unmentionable things, some of which even Mal had never heard before as she paced up and down the corridor between the engine room and the door to the galley. Simon’s voice was more indistinct as he was obviously trying to placate the over wrought girl.

Jayne’s face became more hangdog, the louder and more vocal Kaylee got. Hell, it would put any man of his feed, and Mal thought he’d never see that happen to Jayne. The man hardly ate a thing and then just went to his bunk. Mal also noticed that Zoë ate very little and excused herself soon after the great revelation.

Being that it had been Kaylee’s turn to do the clean up, Mal sighed and started clearing the table. Silently River began to help him clear the dishes, but when she tried to begin the washing of them, he stayed her hands. “You need to be lettin’ those scrapes heal, little one, I’ll wash ‘em up if you want to dry.”

She smiled and moved to stand to his left. They worked quietly for a few moments before River broke the silence. “Wants to talk to you,” she murmured. Mal looked at her confused for a moment before realizing that she was speaking of Inara, who it seemed, was content to sit at the table and stare a hole in their backs. Glancing over his shoulder, he met Inara’s eye, nodded at her and then turned back to the dishes.

“I reckon so,” he said, just as quietly.

“She’s worried…” River left her sentence unfinished.

“Is that so?”

“It’s time…Can’t be put off any longer.” River told him as she took the last dish from him and dried it meticulously. “Don’t go all prickly, it’s important.”

Mal just raised an eyebrow at her as he let the water flow into the bilge to be recycled and sanitized for reuse. “Prickly? I’ll have you know I am as soft and cuddly as a teddy bear.”

River rolled her eyes at that, who did he think he was talkin’ to anyway?

“Don’t make faces.” He said seriously, nudging her with his elbow a huge smile on his handsome face. River smiled and met his gaze before arching a brow.

“Hard not to,” she said as she tossed the towel she held at his chest and then leaned closer. “You are prickly, but in a nice way, except when you’re dealing with Inara.”

Mal reached an arm around River and gave her a quick hug before shooing her out of the kitchen with orders to relax and enjoy the rest of the night. He waited until River was gone, leaving the room empty except for himself and Inara, before returning to the table.

“Would you like some tea?” he asked before sitting down.

“Uh, no, thank you.” She clasped her hands tightly atop the table and glanced nervously in the direction River had gone.

Mal followed her gaze and then looked back at her. “You had something you needed to say,” he prompted. He watched as she took a steadying breath before she met his gaze and spoke.

“Mal I think you need to be careful,” she leaned closer to make her point.

“Careful? Of what…” his eyes narrowed. “Or should I say who?”

“I just think you should be careful of the way you act with River. She’s young and impressionable and if the way she looks at you is anything to go by, she’s already half in love with you.”

“River isn’t a topic I am willin’ to discuss with you. Dong ma? It seems to me that we got plenty of our own history to clear before we start draggin’ others into the conversation.”

“You’re just going to end up hurting her like you hurt…” she stumbled to a stop.

“Like I hurt who, Inara?” his eyes were flinty as he sat straighter in his seat.

“I was just trying to make my point, you are playing a game with that child that will end up hurting her.”

“Firstly, I’m not playin’ any games…I never have…Life is too gorram short to live behind masks. Secondly, I already told you River ain’t part of this discussion and she sure as hell ain’t a child. And lastly I want to know who I gorram hurt!”

“Nandi was my friend,” she said quietly.

“In case your memory is faulty I wasn’t the one that did the shootin’.”

“No, but you used her to get to me.” Her eyes glittered fiercely for a moment before she pulled herself together and once again presented a calm face. Mal’s eyebrows rose in disbelief.

“You are laborin’ under a whole passel full of misconceptions, one of the biggest being that you had anything to do with the night I spent with Nandi! That was between me an’ her, an’ as I recall the next day when I tried to talk plainly with you about it, you shut me down.” He said, as he stood up unable to sit still any longer. “I thought they taught you in whorin’ school not to treat sex all puritanical?”

Her gasp was audible and the look in her eye made him sigh. “Listen I promised River I wouldn’t get all prickly, so, I’m sorry for that last bit.”

“That is exactly what I was talking about before.” She said her eyes troubled, ignoring the slight and apology alike. “Mal she is a child who has been mentally traumatized.”

“No, no…She is a woman who for all intents and purposes is healing.” He countered. “And I already told you River isn’t a party to this discussion.”

“You are wrong, Mal, if you think River isn’t pertinent to this discussion.” Inara said as she moved to stand in front of Mal. “You just apologized to me because of a promise you made River.”

“I always keep my promises, Inara, it’s who I am.”

“I know you are a man of your word, what bothers me is that you are getting very affectionate with someone half your age and you refuse to see how that could hurt her.”

“Inara I keep telling you that River ain’t a part of this, but since you won’t let go of it I’ll tell you this.” He met her eyes seriously, “River may only be eighteen, but she has lived through enough that her soul is as old and ragged as mine. She sees me and I see her and that there is something that no one, not you, not Zoë, not anyone can understand.”

“As for the affection, well, she’s been through a lot. What she done wasn’t easy and even if they was Reavers at the end, they was human beings to start with and it wasn’t easy to put them down. Like I said, I understand her and she understands me and I can’t see it as wrong to give a little physical and emotional support and comfort to each other.” He stared her hard in her eyes. “That’s the end of the River discussion, now do you have something you want to say about somethin’ else or are we done here?”

“I just…” She sighed. “I wanted to try and get things straightened out before I return to the Academy.”

“So, you’re still planning on heading back then?”

“Mal it’s who I am.” She said tiredly.

“I thought it was just something you do.”

“No, more than captaining Serenity is just a job to you.”

“There is a difference Inara, I captain Serenity because I love this ship. She’s solid and dependable and if I keep her up, she’ll fly me to the day I die.” He said forcefully. “I have my boat and I have them what lives on her and that is who I am. What do you have Inara when it is all said and done? What happens when you’ve passed too many winters and your beauty matures and fades while you study in your marble halls? What’s left for you when you stop being a companion?”

Tears welled up in her eyes and she turned away from him. “I’ll have my position at the academy teaching other girls the rewarding art of Companionship.”

“Who‘s gonna hold you when the nights get cold?” Mal asked.

“Mal I…” she turned to look at him her eyes filled with questions, overflowing with things she should say and things she wished he would say, but neither of them did.

Running a hand over his face, he sighed and leaned his head back to study the bulkhead. Something had changed. He didn’t know what, but it had. Normally he would have been so attracted to Inara that he would insult her and walk away, out of self-preservation, but things had changed. He still found her attractive, but it was in a subtly different way.

Looking back down at her, he distantly noticed little things, like her perfectly made up face with her painted lips and shimmering dust across her cheeks. The scrape she’d received a few days earlier was nearly completely healed and she was beautiful. Lord knows he’d wanted Inara with a powerful desire from the first minute they met.

They were like a match and kindlin’ and he knew that they’d go up in a flame of fire if they ever struck against one another, but Inara sure had a way of throwin’ water in a man’s face and makin’ him sorry he even thought to feel the heat of the flame. His body sure found Inara a likely enough prospect, and when he thought of her, he knew he wanted her, but he couldn’t see it lastin’.

Closing his eyes River’s sweet face crossed his mind and he remembered the innocent yet straight foreword way she’d told him they’d dance when the music was finished. The reaction of his body was pretty clear. His heart throbbed and his skin tingled with an awkward awareness that literally sucker punched him.

Sighing heavily, he thought of her as she’d looked earlier, dancing in the rain and he wanted her somethin’ fierce. Wanted to teach her all the ways to be free and fly. He shouldn’t be feeling or thinking these things but for the life of him he couldn’t bring himself to think it was wrong. They were two broken pieces; bookends with Serenity nestled between them.

When he focused back on Inara, she had a sad little smile on her face as though she’d been privy to his thoughts. “She’s just a girl.”

“I know that, don’t think for a minute I don’t remember that fact, but I don’t think it is something I can back away from.” He smiled. “I care for you Inara and you are a fine looking woman, but this thing, well, it snuck up on me and I don’t want to run from it.”

“She isn’t ready for a serious relationship.” Inara tried again.

“Neither am I, but it doesn’t mean we can’t explore the possibilities. I went without intimate relations for a fair bit o’ time before Nandi and sex doesn’t even have to enter into the equation, at least not until we know what were feelin’. We’re both broken, missin’ pieces that can’t be found, pieces that we can give to each other, make us whole.”

“That was very poetical.” Inara said her smile finally reaching her eyes.

“Never said I only read poems.” He chided gently. “Once upon a battle field I was quite the warrior poet.”

“I find that hard to believe.” She said arching her eyebrow.

“It’s true, I was a soldier, poet and if you can believe this, I was more devote than Shepherd Book.” He smiled a little sadly. “Serenity Valley shattered that man. I don’t think if Zoë hadn’t been there, she’d o’ recognized me when it was over.”

“I’ve been seein’ that man a lot more these past few days.” Mal and Inara both jumped at the sound of Zoë’s voice behind them. She smiled at Mal, “Though I haven’t had to listen to any sermons, I’ve noticed a bit o’ faith sneakin’ in when you least expect it.” She walked over to the table and took an apple. “I didn’t mean to interrupt, sir, but I felt a little hungry all of a sudden.”

“Its all right, we were finished.” Inara assured her. “I think I have a few things to think about, so I’ll leave you two alone.”

Zoë watched her go before turning to her long time friend. “I would have recognized you, sir. Your faith might have been battered and broken, but you still have the strength of character that drew us all in, especially me, and I wouldn’t have followed you this long if you’d become a truly different man.” Then she saluted with her knife and left.

Mal was touched by Zoë’s steadfast loyalty and exhilarated by his newly formed realization concerning his little albatross; he set the environmental controls to false night and headed to his bunk.

River sat watching the water run in rivulets down the window in front of her as she idly stroked the spikes atop the toy triceratops. She couldn’t wait to be off this rock and away from the memories that plagued her here. It wasn’t the same as before Miranda, because these were her memories and not that of old men drowning in the blood of an entire planet, but she needed to feel the emptiness of the black around her.

Serenity was like a phoenix, raised from the ashes, rebuilt and ready to fly, River knew she wasn’t the only one wanting off the moon, Zoë was ready to leave the desolate place and Mal was tired of kissin’ the dirt and she could feel the excitement racing through him at the thought of leaving the terrestrial behind.

Drawn by the patter of the rain against the glass, River gracefully slipped over to place her hand against the cold glass and savored the naturalness of the circles inherent in life. It gave a measure of peace to the soul that everything had its cycle, had its place. She’d been sitting here for nearly two hours reveling in the realization that she could finally see a clear path through the woods that had surrounded her these last three years and she could have purpose. She didn’t have to be the useless girl, tolerated and indulged, she could be of use and live her life.

Smiling she decided that she liked this room that had once been Wash’s playground and she would make her presence felt, she planned to be of use to the Captain and his makeshift family. They would fly away from all the secrets and they would all live simple.

Feeling a presence behind her, she reached out and touched the mind of the Companion, it was oddly open where as it was usually closed behind high walls. She was displeased about her conversation with Mal the night before and Zoë earlier that same day, now she felt she had no choice, but to try and reason with the girl. It didn’t upset River that Inara had consigned her to the box marked child, it was the only way the other woman could rationalize her disapproval of the budding closeness between River and Mal, that way she needn’t admit that she herself cared deeply for the captain.

River simply waited for the woman to speak, and when she did she wasn’t surprised by what was said. “Mei-mei, I was hoping to talk to you about something important.”

River turned to study the other woman and found her face couched in a concerned façade and her voice the epitome of care, the gentle smile on her features not reaching her eyes.

“Of course, jie-jie,” River calmly moved to sit in the co-pilot’s chair and met the other woman’s gaze unwaveringly. Inara found the steadfast gaze unnerving but fortified her resolve and just plowed ahead.

“I already tried to speak to Mal and Zoë about this, but neither of them seems concerned.”

“Then maybe there isn’t a need to be.” River said quietly.

“Of course there is a need, River, I have been watching you these last few days and I am worried about you.” Inara’s words were fierce and her conviction that she was right about this caused her to stand straighter as she looked down upon the girl.

Smiling knowingly River countered, “Lying to yourself and the others. You don’t even know you’re lying.”

Inara blanched white as the words hit her. “Don’t be silly!” she countered.

“Not silly, not a child, and not crazy, not anymore,” River spoke sadly. “You pretend to worry about the child, because you can’t bare the thought that you threw the diamond out with the rough. Chipping away at the beauty because it wasn’t to your liking, but now you see. You see the man behind the eyes and think he might finally be worthy, but you can’t see, can’t except that he might not want to fit into the setting you designed.”

“Men like Mal are a slave to their egos, he sees you fawning and it boosts his ego.”

“Trained to see, but you don’t. Mal doesn’t fit into that box.”

Ignoring River’s quietly stated words Inara continued, “There is only one thing he could want from you. You’re young and you just don’t see it.”

“You’re wrong if that is all he wanted, he would have bedded you long ago.” River had lost patience with the older woman and moved to stand before her. “You are tarnished like silver handled to much and all he needed from you was to accept him and be his.” River shook her head, “He would have come too, willingly, he tried after Nandi, but you needed to punish him. He would have been the poet in your arms, but you threw the rough away and in your haste you lost the greatest of treasures.”

River looked pityingly at the Companion; she could read the emotions clearly as they crossed the other woman’s face and mind as though it were clear crystal. “You have your control be happy with it, but don’t mistake me for a child, I know who you are and I know what you are running from.”

“You can try, jie-jie,” River’s eyes flashed as she moved in closer and smiled sweetly to whisper in Inara’s ear, her breath teasing the tiny hairs at the base of Inara’s neck. “Hurt him and there isn’t a ship in the ‘verse that will be fast enough to save you, dong ma?”

Inara shivered at the implied threat and her wide eyes met the serious brown of River’s, before the girl turned lithely to sit in the co-pilots seat and looked back over her shoulder. “If you don’t want Mal to know you’ve been here you should probably go now, he just past Jayne, heading here from the cargo bay.”

Inara turned and quietly left, she felt as though she were escaping hell fire or demon spawn. She turned for one last look as she left. River sat with her head back and her right hand caressing the control panel in front of her so when she called out, “You better run then.” Inara could do no less than hurry away.

* * * * *

“Serenity…” the cultured tones of the man put Mal’s back up and he turned to look at the man who seemed intent on talking to him no matter how taciturn or in hospitable a face Mal showed him. “You lost everything in that battle. Everything you had. Everything you were…How could you go on?”

Well, if that wasn’t a gorram surprise, the tamade hundan was actually askin’ him to impart his hard won wisdom. The man was obviously delusional… “If you’re still standin’ there when that engine starts, you never will figure it out.”

He hadn’t expected Mal to be so cold in his reply and he literally looked like he was being whipped as he turned away. From where Mal stood, the man didn’t deserve the precious seeds he’d fought for, that had grown into a new will to live, he was too busy complaining about the injustice of it all, “What a whiner!”

Tossing the tools and other bits he’d been using to fine tune things for the final inspection he smiled, they could now break atmo and finally get out from under the heel of the Alliance. He saw Zoë walking tall, not bowed by the losses dealt her and once again felt the urge to put the other man through the engine.

“Sir, we have a green light, the inspection’s pos and we’re cleared for up-thrust.”

He wanted to ask her if he’d been such a whiny yiwusuoyou after they were finally carried out of Serenity Valley, but at the moment he had more important things on his mind.

So, he let his eyes ask what couldn’t be voiced, like if she was holdin’ up okay, “Think she’ll hold together?” He watched her and with a sigh he looped his fingers in his gun belt waiting for her answer.

Her eyes burned with suppressed grief as she answered, “She’s tore up plenty, but she’ll fly true.” His gut twisted as he barely nodded his understanding to the unspoken words, ‘I’m hurt, but I’ll be fine’.

“Make sure everything’s secure.” His lips commanded but his eyes told her that he was there if she needed him, “Could be bumpy.”

“Always is,” she answered head high as she went about her duties.

Taking a deep breath, he headed for the bridge taking the stairs two at a time. It was finally time to get off this rock. He could feel the lightness of freedom enter his heart and the need for the emptiness of the black claw at the back of his mind.

He stroked a hand along Serenity’s smooth metal wall as he went. He hated being grounded for so long, after Shadow and Serenity Valley he’d only been happy when he was soaring through the velvet darkness of the black. The Alliance could take the land, he had the sky and he didn’t have anywhere else he’d rather be.

He passed Jayne in the corridor stuffing his face; he’d obviously gotten his appetite back now that little Kaylee had quit her fussin’. Idly Mal wondered if he should tell the man he had noodle on his chin, but just let it pass in his haste to get them in to the black.

He spotted Inara headed for the kitchen as he stepped into the main corridor. “Takin’ her out. It should be about a days ride to get you back to your girls.”

“Right,” she said looking ill at ease. Not sparing her another glance, he headed for the bridge.

“Ready to get off this heap and get back to civilized life?”

“I-ah…” her stammered response had him turning around. “I don’t know.”

Mal gave her a small smile. Maybe something he’d said last night had worked its way into her mind. She could be so much more than every man’s plaything. “Good answer.” He told her warmly and climbed the steps to the bridge.

The shadows cast by the rain streaked sky outside Serenity made for a solemn welcome as he sat down in what would always be Wash’s chair. His eyes drawn to the palm trees and dinosaurs Wash always favored, before starting the ignition sequence that would fire the atmo engines.

He pretended he didn’t see her in the co-pilot’s chair and systematically flipped switches and checked readings. “So, you gonna ride shotgun with me and help me fly?”

“That’s the plan.” She said as she flipped the switches necessary to pilot from her console.

“Then you can work out any of the…” He stopped mid sentence when Serenity lifted off the ground. Trying hard not to look as concerned or impressed as he was he added, “Okay…Clearly…Some aptitude for the…” he pointed at her console and then set about taking control back.

She was a natural and he wondered if there was anything she wasn’t good at or more to the point if there was anything left for her to learn. Deciding it didn’t matter if you had a passel of intellectual knowledge, you were nowhere without having an understanding of the basic human philosophies behind each mathematical equation and scientific hypothesis governing flight so he went about lending her his wisdom.

“It ain’t all about buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is?” He turned to look at her as she leveled off and he took control of the ship. Then he smiled knowingly at her and added his eyes dancing, “Well, I suppose you do since you already know what I’m about to say.”

“I do,” her voice sounded so sweet that he had to look back at her and her sweet face and her happy eyes put a sparkle in his own and his smile widened. “But I like to hear you say it.”

The straight forward, no holds barred way in she spoke, unashamed or embarrassed by the meaning behind the words, took the smile from his face and he became deathly earnest. This wasn’t a game and he needed to be sure she knew and understood what that meant.

Turning to look out the rain pelted window, he steadied himself before turning back to face her, slightly flipping random switches. “Love,” He met her eye and willed her to hear his words, but also see what lay behind them. “You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love and she’ll shake you off as sure as the turn of the worlds.”

Mal met her eyes as she drew her feet up in front of her and wrapped her arms around her legs to steady them in the chair. His voice grew softer, more husky as he continued, “Love keeps her in the air when she aught to fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ before she keens…Makes her a home.”

He turned back to the task of piloting his boat, all the while hoping she’d seen what lay underneath the words he’d spoken. Hoping she’d read the words he had clearly written on the pages of his mind. He knew she understood when he noticed the slight smile on her lips as she turned to study the sky outside.

“Storm’s getting worse.” She noted but he wasn’t thick enough to think she was speaking only about the weather on this god-forsaken rock. He knew that they were headed into a bigger storm, but he was sure that Serenity would see them through anything that fate could throw at them.

“We’ll pass through it soon enough,” he assured her.

As though eager to enforce his words, Serenity shot above the storm clouds into the glowing warmth of the sun and the sight made his heart leap as he rolled Serenity joyfully and then broke atmo jetting into the black. He smiled over at River as they were immersed in the velvet darkness of the black. She smiled back, her face he was sure a mirror to his own.

Turning back, he started plotting their course to Sihohn when a noise, like metal on metal, echoed through the ship. Surprised Mal looked toward his co-pilot. “What was that?”

“It sounded like one of the rear stabilizers.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t the primary buffer panel?”

“I’m sure I would have seen that, besides Zoë did all the work on that panel and she did a good job.” She told him authoritatively.

“Well, no matter what it was, we can’t break atmo until we suss out what it was.” He nodded. “We’ll cut a path and once we get a goodly ways from this rock, Jayne and I’ll have a look see. Inara will just have to stay aboard an extra day or two.” River nodded but remained silent. “Speakin’ of Inara, what did she have to say when she was up here earlier?”

“She’s worried.”

“You said as much last night.” His brow furrowed as he worried about the things he had admitted to Inara in the galley last night. He had taken quiet a bit for granted when he spoke.

“You don’t have to worry. I understand and concur.” River said as she slowly unfolded herself from her chair to stand beside him at the controls. “She thinks we are going to fall into…” She blushed and glanced away shyly and traced her finger over the pointed head of the plastic dinosaur. “Doesn’t understand that there are other states of being.”

As he watched her fumble with the words, he felt the ice surrounding the tattered edges of his heart begin to melt and on instinct he took her hand in his and stroked his thumb gently over the healing scrapes and bruises. “Aiya, women wanle, little albatross!” He murmured when her eyes met his.

“We haven’t done anything to get us in trouble, Captain.” She told him primly and smiled as he stroked her knuckles. “Besides you’re right, we need to heal more before we think about any major changes.”

It felt odd having this discussion with her in such obliquely obvious words and he decided that he was happy they could acknowledge what was between them enough to talk about it. Slowly letting her fingers slide from his, he agreed. “I don’t want to hurt you, bao bei, so I vote that we don’t make a move yet.”

She smiled into his eyes. “I will second that, with the addendum that we can touch some.”

He raised his brow and shook his head not understanding, so she put her hand on his shoulder. “I want to touch like this…Or…This.” she slid her hand to his fingers and lightly grasped them. “If we can’t touch how will we learn…How can we heal each other?”

Looking very seriously down at her pale hand clasped in his, he lifted it and gently tugged her so that her knee pressed into his thigh before looking back into her eyes. He felt like he was a teenager and this was the first time he had ever held hands with a girl, which was foolish, but seemed so right to describe the warm excitement coursing through him at the innocent touch. “All right, bao bei.”

She smiled as she stepped away and headed for the galley not releasing his hand instead their arms stretched between, “I’m getting some tea would you like a cup?”

“Tea would hit the spot,” he murmured as her fingers slipped through his. It felt good touching her, different than touching Kaylee and Zoë. It even felt more right than the awkwardness of touching Inara. He felt secure in River’s acceptance of his touch, where as with Inara he’d always been rebuked for even innocent caring touches.

When she returned with their tea, she put his down on the console in front of him and then pushed her fingers through his hair at the nap of his neck. It was such a comforting gentle touch that he leaned into her rhythmically stroking fingers and closed his eyes. He felt the satisfying hum of his boat under his hands and the gentle care of his little albatross and he knew that no matter what fate tossed at them they would be okay.

Their first meal in the black was like a celebration. It was Kaylee’s turn to cook and she made risotto with real chicken stock, sliced tomatoes and apple crisp made with the spices Shepherd Book had gifted her with before he left Serenity to serve at Haven.

Jayne brought out some of his fancy rice whiskey and they ate a feast worthy of Serenity’s return to the sky. They joked and laughed and told stories, some new and some old and well worn but loved by those present.

“…And there the Captain stood in his all together yellin’ and rantin’ about purplebelly schemes and wantin’ to know what the hell’d happened the night before…”Zoë was laughing so hard she snorted and the rest of the crews reactions were the same. “He thought sure he’d been shot…thought it was an evil Alliance trick shootin’ him in the goram ass and leavin’ him with nary a stitch to his name.”

“If I ‘member correctly you wasn’t none to sure it weren’t.” Mal reminded her as he wiped a tear from his eye.

“Found his cloths scattered from one end of camp t’other. At first he was so embarrassed, but by the time we found his pants he was fair struttin’ around the place like he’d single handedly won the war.”

“I don’t remember struttin’…” Mal countered.

“You were struttin’ and showin’ of your war wound.” This had her snorting again.

“An all the time it was just a tattoo?” Kaylee asked eyes wide snickering behind her hand.

“And that is the story of Malcolm Reynolds first taste of the demon whiskey!” Zoë looked at her long time friend. “Still ain’t sure what the goram thing is.”

“And ya ain’t like to, neither.” Mal assured her as he raised his glass to her. “Now enough, why don’t ya’ll pick on someone else?”

“I can’t imagine you as a bible thumpin’, temperance sort.” Jayne poured him self another shot of whiskey.

“My momma was a god fearin’ woman.” He said with a fond smile on his face and that was all the answer needed.

“I can’t believe the captain was so addled with drink he got himself branded.” Kaylee added with a giggle. “He’s always so serious. I don’t recon I ever saw ‘im in a bad way from drink.”

“Things change little Kaylee, people change.” Mal leaned back in his chair and surveyed his crew. Feeling inordinately lucky to have pieced together such a family. River sat close to him, but not touching him, except with her eyes.

She smiled sweetly at him when his eyes rested too long on her face and he felt the same warmth pervade his chest that he’d felt earlier at the helm with her fingers stroking his hair.

Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he tossed it in his plate and River got up and made two cups of tea. Smiling when she handed him his cup, he hooked his foot under her chair dragging it closer to his and waited for her to sit. Once she’d taken her place, he gently stroked her long hair behind her ear and then drank from his cup.

She settled against his side so that their arms brushed whenever they moved, but that was the extent of the touching. The interaction going mostly unnoticed as the others continued to laugh at Jayne’s clearly fictitious tale. When the laughter died down, they began calling out for another story cajoling Zoë to tell another one, but she refused stating she’d already had her turn and it was someone else’s. Then attention turned to Simon, who out right refused after the less than receptive treatment of his last attempt.

Instead Jayne got his guitar from his bunk and played while the others finished up dinner. When River began to hum along and sway in her seat Mal knew she wanted to dance. Lord knows he wasn’t much of a dancer, but the memory of her smile the day before prompted his hand to act before his mind had fully weighed the pros and cons of the situation.

He grasped her fingers lightly and stood tugging her to her feet. “Come on little albatross, no sense in wastin’ perfectly good music.” He put one of her hands on his waist and the other was clasped softly in his hand as they began to sway to the music, their eyes smiling gently at one another.

Her smile was brilliant and shone throughout the dining room as Mal guided them through a makeshift dance. They passed Kaylee and Simon doin’ more kissing than actual dancing and River giggled at the spectacle they made. Grinning, Mal danced her in a circle and then dipped her backwards surprising a laugh from her. Their eyes met and he could feel the fire of desire flickering to life in his veins. They didn’t notice when Zoë and Inara left. They weren’t cognizant that Kaylee had dragged Simon off to their room and were completely oblivious when the music ended because Jayne had followed suit and headed for his own bunk. Slowly easing out of the dip, he just gazed into her beautiful face, seeing a mirrored glint of want in her eyes.

Raising their linked hands, he twirled her out slowly and then back again until she was pressed close to him with her hands on his chest and his gliding up her arms to cradle her face.

The air seemed to grow thicker and he couldn’t seem to pull in a breath, his whole world focused on every inch of them that touched. He could just do it, he thought, just lean in and press his lips to hers, slip inside her and taste the bitter sweetness her mouth would offer him, but he knew she wasn’t ready for that.

The tiny tremors of her body against his were enough to tell him that even if there hadn’t been a glimmer of fear in her eyes mingling with the anticipation and desire, it was still too soon. Instead, he slid his thumb to rest against her soft lips and stroked ever so gently. Her breath caught and her lips trembled. He groaned closing his eyes. He needed to step back. He should have moved the minute he felt her body against his, but he had been selfish and greedy.

“Not selfish or greedy,” she whispered, her lips tickling the pad of his thumb as she spoke and if he hadn’t had a tight reign on his body it would have jerked against hers at the innocently erotic action. She gently kissed the digit and met his heated gaze when he opened his eyes to her again. “Want you…the timing is just wrong…too afraid this is a dream.”

Taking a deep steadying breath, Mal pulled River closer. Wrapping her in his arms and placing his chin so it rested against her silky hair, his eyes slowly closing as he relished the rightness.

***** Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, En wrought with the golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams beneath your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams... *****

Mal’s spoke the words so low and fervently as he pulled away and stroked her hair from her face, before setting her away from him painfully with a silent command to go on to her bunk.

* * * * *

Mal had always looked at Serenity’s crew as the missing pieces of who he used to be and even who he could become. Kaylee with her shiny outlook was like the boy who was able to uplift those around him and even laugh whilst covered by the dirt and blood of war. Wash was the happy-go-lucky part that too much responsibility and too little victory siphoned away. When Shepherd Book joined the crew, well he brought with him the piece that had once defined all of Mal’s dealings, he brought faith.

Hell even Jayne had bits about him that reminded Mal of what he once was, as tiny as the bits might be. Zoë had become his strength in those minutes after he watched the Alliance rain fire on the soldiers he’d rallied together with words of faith and his arrogant charm.

She’d seen the gaping wound left inside him and held him through that night. As he sat too stunned to weep, paralyzed with disbelief that what so many had died for what was so easily thrown away by men safe from the fire fights, the bombing, the death and disease of the battle field.

He’d stared unseeing into the night and when the next day dawned he’d picked up the pieces gathered so meticulously by Zoë the night before, and he put them back together binding them with the glue of his rage and hardening the broken bits with the inflexibility of his anger.

She had seen the man of faith debased and watched as a man of conviction pulled himself out of the darkness, broken and bleeding from wounds no one else could see. She’d been his strength and at times his conscience. Always at his back, following his lead and that is why he found it so gorram hard to sit here in the darkened corridor beside her door and hear the muffled keening from the room she’d shared with Wash.

Mal leaned his head back against the grating and closed his eyes. He wanted to gather Zoë’s pieces together and hold them for her until she could bind them back up, but it wasn’t his place to intrude on their domain.

He’d sent River off to bed hours earlier and found that Kaylee and the good Doctor had left the galley without doing the dishes yet again. He was wondering if it was some sort of conspiracy to keep him elbow deep in nasty water but he didn’t complain, just made a note to make mention of the habit in the morning over breakfast. He’d finished the cleaning and re-checked the autopilot before heading to his own bunk.

Feeling too restless to sleep, he’d quietly walked Serenity, taking comfort in the feel of the metal decking beneath his bare feet. He’d pulled a shirt on, but hadn’t fastened the front as he made his way to the common room across from the infirmary searching the shelves for something to read. Serenity wasn’t a prosperous ship, but they had a few rare treasures, such as the books held in the shelves with cargo netting.

Mal wondered if anyone ever wondered how they’d come to be on Serenity but knew that even if they did wonder they wouldn’t believe he’d slowly collected them. Most everyone but Zoë and River figured he was an uneducated man from a dead border planet.

He’d heard the muffled sobs when he’d returned to his bunk and that is how he ended up resting against the grating wishing he could be of some use to the woman who’d become his family since they both served with the 57th. Unlike God, Zoë had never disappointed him and he hated not being able to comfort her.

His eyes snapped open when he heard the crew compartment opposite him open, revealing the warm light emanating from within River’s room. It was odd not seeing the fairy lights around the compartment’s door.

When River made no effort to join him, he opened the book he held and began to read aloud using the illumination she’d provided.

**** There's a town called Don’t-You-Worry, On the banks of River Smile; Where the Cheer-Up and Be-Happy Blossom sweetly all the while.

****

Silently River climbed onto the deck wrapped in a grey blanket. Mal took only a moment to glance in her direction as she settled next to him. She draped her blanket around them both and leaned her head on his shoulder. Nuzzling the top of her head with his whisker roughened cheek, he continued.

**** Where the Never-Grumble flower Blooms beside the fragrant Try, And the Ne'er-Give-Up and the Patience Point their faces to the sky.

In the valley of Contentment, In the province of I-Will, You will find this lovely city, At the foot of No-Fret Hill. ****

The silence from the bunk below was a soothing balm to his troubled soul and he fancied Zoë listening to him read like so many war torn nights they’d shared. Of course then it’d been the good book he read aloud, his faith so solid he couldn’t imagine it broken.

**** There are thoroughfares delightful In this very charming town, And on every hand there are shade trees Named the Very-Seldom-Frown.

Rustic benches quite enticing You'll find scattered here and there; And to each a vine is clinging Called the Frequent-Earnest-Prayer. ****

River had drifted off to sleep. Her body warm beside him as he sought to comfort the ones he loved.

**** Everybody there is happy And is singing all the while, In the town of Don't-You-Worry, On the banks of River Smile. ****

When he’d finished the poem he closed the book and sat it beside him on the floor. Closing his eyes, he soaked in the gentle warmth of the woman-child at his side, the silky strands of her hair tickling his face and neck. Zoë’s room was silent and had been for a while. River lay against him and he imagined they were sleeping on the banks of River Smile.

******************************************************** Author’s notes: He Wishes For the Clothes’ of Heaven, by W.B. Yeats and The Town of Don’t-You-Worry, by I.J. Bartlett used without permission, but with great fondness of the art. **********************************************************

He was dying!

That was the only excuse for the wrenching pain he felt when he moved his head. Freezing all movement until he could assess the damage he focused on the little things first.

He was sitting with his back to the wall and it felt like the grating from the deck was imprinted permanently on his ass. His neck hurt and his head was likely to snap off it if he so much as moved it an inch in any direction.

Flexing his right hand his fingers tangled in the long silky hair draped over his thighs. That was new and almost convinced him he wanted to look down and determine who his killer would be. Now that he thought on it, hair weren’t the only thing in his lap when he felt the sleeping girl nuzzle her cheek against him, snuggling closer.

That did it! With a pained groan he forced his head forward and opened his eyes.

Yeap, he was dying and he was going to hell!

With a jerk of surprise Mal met Simon’s narrowed eyes. “I’m guessin’ this is anger.”

He immediately regretted the jerky movement with every twisted knot of muscle in his body. Not only because any movement on his part caused excruciating pain, but because the movement had disturbed River. She was busy stretching like a cat, her arm wrapped around his thigh and nuzzling her face into his naked stomach.

Mal groaned and felt his eyes roll to the back of his head as her lips brushed against the taunt muscles of his belly. He tried to hide his reaction by lifting his left arm to massage his neck. River had settled down again as though back to sleep, but Mal knew differently, because he felt the timid press of her lips on his belly button and he imagined her tongue doing the same.

When he felt the warm wetness of it do exactly that, he froze and his eyes flew to Simon’s hoping the younger man couldn’t tell what was happening! Gorram girl was readin’ his mind and takin’ advantage of his precarious position with her brother!

“Doc…” Mal said his voice husky and rich from sleep.

“I keep trying to imagine how this could be more disturbing, but it just isn’t coming to me.” Simon said as he glanced at the back of River’s head still resting in Mal’s lap.

“I could,” Mal grumbled before saying with a quiet edge. “This ain’t what it looks like.”

“And how exactly does it look, Captain?”

Mal just glared at the other man and mentally told River her game was over and it was time to be movin’ her pretty head out of his lap. His mind was a bit strident and he softened the command with a gentle brush of his fingers against her hair.

“The Captain was reading to me.” Zoë’s voice startled them all when she entered the corridor from the kitchen carrying three cups with steam vapor rising from them. “Here…” she handed him one of the cups and when she noticed his grimace hid a smile. “Not exactly comfortable is it, sir?”

“Not so much!”

He fought hard and won the battle not to moan aloud as River pushed herself up from his lap and accepted her own cup with a smile. The real kicker was when she didn’t move away from his side, but instead leaned into him and laid her head on his shoulder.

The look in Simon’s eyes clearly said that if Mal lived through the torture of moving he’d gladly kill him in ever increasingly painful ways.

“Reading?” Simon’s voice dripped sarcasm.

“Didn’t think I could read?”

“You spent the night reading?” Simon asked incredulously, ignoring Mal’s attempt at humor.

“Reading, Simon,” River said as she stretched across Mal’s chest to retrieve the book of poetry, which she cradled to her own as she lithely stood and handed her cup back to Zoë who took it with a smile. Handing the book to Simon, she turned her back to her brother and stepped over Mal’s legs and offered him her hand.

His eyes widened at her new position, before he realized she was offering to help him stand and not trying to sign his death warrant. It took some maneuvering and a little help from Zoë before they got him upright. He’d never thought of himself as particularly old, but the reaction his body was having to last nights sleeping arrangement made him feel like he was fifty.

Actually his body hadn’t really been the same since the whole getting shot in the back, beat to a bruised and bloody pulp, and he didn’t even want to think about the whole sword through the side thing, which happened one too many times.

Once he was standing, he stretched and the popping and creaking was audible. He became aware of a few other things as he tried to work out the kinks. First, his ass was asleep and secondly, that his body felt like it had been rode hard and put away wet and he’d gotten a good gorram nights sleep in spite of it all.

* * * *

Inara was a little unnerved by the sappy smile gracing Mal’s face. She’d heard from the others that Simon had given him a muscle relaxant to ease his discomfort. Evidently it put him in this oddly unsettling mood.

The fact that Mal was grinning like a fool as River massaged his neck and shoulders while he sat at the helm, only served to upset Inara even more. From the grumbling Simon was doing as he stood beside her, he was just as disquieted. The thought that she should have gone to Simon first instead of the others about River’s crush made her sigh.

The sharp look that crossed River’s face as she met Inara’s gaze made her glad she hadn’t gone that route. Inara hadn’t wanted to believe Mal was correct about the girl being a reader, but the girl seemed to pick every thought from her brain.

“Captain, you aren’t in any condition to be making decisions, let alone piloting the ship!” Simon was getting more perturbed by the second, if he’d thought that the captain was stubborn before he was doubly so under the influence of the relaxant.

“Auto-pilot is set and the only thing that’ll keep me from makin’ the decisions on my boat is death.” Mal eased back until his head rested against the back of his seat and gently stopped River’s ministrations

*That could be arranged!* Simon thought uncharitably. “I won’t allow River to do this!”

“I seem to recall a couple conversations about you not given orders on my boat!” Mal’s easy disposition disappeared. “Don’t let the happy rollin’ off me fool ya! I am still the Captain.” River’s hand on his shoulder kept him in his seat when he would have risen to face off with her brother.

“You can’t make my decisions, Simon.” River moved from between the console and the back of the captain’s chair to stand in front of her brother. “I can do this job and be useful. Don’t make me helpless again until I give you cause. It frightens you and you can’t understand how it can be safe, but I find walking in space exhilarating.”

“River…” Simon’s eyes were sad and worried and filled with all his love and misgivings.

“Simon, you always take care of me, but there are times when it isn’t necessary. This is one of them.” She stated firmly her eyes mirroring his love and care back at him. “If it isn’t me it will have to be Kaylee and she isn’t nearly as impressed with space walking as I am. That makes it more dangerous for her.”

“Zoë…” Simon started to say.

“No, Simon, I won’t let her do this.” River said as she smoothed her hand down his cheek. “I know things and this has to be done by me.”

“What do you know that makes it impossible for...” River sliced her hand through the air quieting him.

“I just know,” her voice rose as she clearly lost patience with her brother. “Simon I am not going to let you pin my wings to the paper and stick a label on me.”

Simon seemed to be rallying for another round but his continued argument was stalled when Kaylee’s panicked voice called out.

“Simon! Simon, quick…” they all turned to find Kaylee tearing down the corridor toward the bridge. “I don’t know what happened…she was just standin’ there ‘n then she just keeled over…”

Mal’s eyes widened because unlike the doctor he knew that meant something had happened to Zoë, bein’ as she was the only person on the crew not present. He pushed past the confused doctor and raced toward the kitchen area, where Zoë’d been preparing the morning meal.

He dropped to his knees at her side and found her eyes fluttering open. She looked disoriented at first and then she looked alarmed. “Why am I on the ground?”

“Was just ‘bout to ask you that very same.” Mal said as he helped her sit up. “Thought maybe you was inspectin’ the floor.” His eyes clouded as she held her spinning head in her hands. “Doc, take Zoë on down to the infirmary,” When it looked as though she would argue, he stopped her. “No arguin’ with me, Zoë. Been a little more of that goin’ on around here than I like. Just do as you’re told and take it easy. River and I are gonna walk the ship to see if we can suss out what little bit got away from us when we broke atmo.”

When the others followed Simon and Zoë out of the kitchen, Mal turned serious eyes on River. “Got an answer for what just happened?”

“Don’t worry sometimes things look bad when they aren’t.” She smiled mysteriously at him and then bounced out of the kitchen headed for the helm.

* * * * *

A thorough inspection of Serenity’s hull turned up that it was one of the rear extenders that stabilized the ship during re-entry had fallen off. All in all, it was a pretty important piece and cost a pretty penny. Mal decided that they would have to go planet side at the first planet on the charts and that happened to be Beaumont. They would have to go in the second Shuttle to purchase the part if’n they even found a way to pay for it. He didn’t have to worry about that for another twelve hours so he just shoved it to the back of his mind. He’d think on it later.

He rubbed his eyes warily as he studied the vast blackness before him. He and River had completed their inspection an hour ago and still Simon was no closer to answering Mal’s all important question of what the gorram hell had happened to Zoë.

River had muttered about Simon being a boob and left to parts unknown with out another word.

When the hair on the back of his neck prickled he knew River had joined him. “Hey, little one, whatcha been up to?”

“I know where we can get the money to pay for the repairs and then some.” She said as she walked up to stand behind him and gently slid her fingers through the hair at his nape.

“That so?” he asked smiling indulgently.

“That’s so,” she moved to the co-pilots seat and sat down. Mal immediately missed the feel of her fingers on him. “The Maidenhead.”

“The Maidenhead,” Mal’s eyebrows shot up, “Fanti and Mingo got work I don’t know about?”

“They never gave you your cut from the trade station robbery and there is something else.” She turned to stare unseeing out into the black.

“Go on…”

“The man, the one that came to see you when you were healing, I looked into his mind.”

“The man that did his gorram best to kill me,” Mal said a slight smile on his lips.

“I saw what he did. I know how he knew where to strike.” River said softly.

Mal turned to look at her, gauging her words for the answers she was trying to give and when he had them he felt his anger rise. Those gorram rat bastards! “You sure about that?”

“Yes, he tortured them, but not as bad as he could have.” She shook her head, “They gave our friends away to save their lives and their business.”

Mal nodded and turned back to the black, “You got a plan all worked out?”

“Of course,” she assured him. “I’m what the Alliance made me and one of the things they instilled was the value of a good strategy.”

“That ain’t true,” Mal said softly his eyes intense. “They may have drilled things into you but they didn’t make you, any more then they made me.”

“I have darkness inside me, Mal. And it threatens to swallow me whole even now.”

“We all have darkness inside us.” He thought of the events leading up to Miranda and added earnestly. “We all have to fight it, to keep from drowning in it. It’s a natural part of bein’ human and some of us darlin’, some of us have a puddle o’ darkness with more avarice than others. It don’t make us less that we have to fight it, but more when we hold our ground against it.”

“What the gorram hell is this?!” Zoë’s outraged voice rang through the bridge as she shoved the tattered remains of one of Wash’s shirts into River’s face. “What the hell did you do?”

River’s eyes were huge as though she hadn’t expected the outrage which washed from Zoë’s body like waves on a turbulent ocean.

“Wasn’t of use. I put them to use.” River told her quietly.

“Wasn’t of…” Zoë’s voice was growing ragged with grief. “You had no right to take my husband’s shirts and tear them to bits!” She cradled what was left of his shirts to her chest.

“I made them new.” River said as she stood up and put her hand out to the other woman. “Sit down Zoë, you shouldn’t…”

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do!” Mal stood up and placed a hand on Zoë’s shoulder. His eyes troubled when they met River’s after taking in the shredded shirt pieces. “What did you do with them?”

“I made…”

“So help me if you say you made them new I will choke the life out of you, shenjingbing, bu huihen de po fu!”

River’s back straightened and she moved to leave the bridge, but was stopped by Mal’s tight grip on her bruised arm. It hurt, but she didn’t flinch and when she turned to him she controlled the urge to cry at his stony face and dark thoughts.

She simple looked him in the eye and then looked to the place where his fingers dug into her already painful flesh. When his eyes followed hers, his face blanched and he dropped her arm. She didn’t wait to see what else would be said. She just went to her bunk and retrieved the box she’d been saving to give Zoë later.

She climbed half way up to the corridor and then just lifted the box out, handing it to Zoë without a word. River’s disappointed eyes swung to Mal’s before she climbed back down into her bunk and shut the hatch with a decisive thud.

Neither River nor Zoë made an appearance at lunch. The rest of the crew having heard about the incident was quiet and pensive and Mal was walking around with a storm cloud hanging over him. He kept seeing his fingers digging cruelly into River’s already bruised flesh and it made him feel sick to his stomach.

It was now approaching dinner time and they would be arriving in Beaumont’s orbit within the next few hours. He hadn’t spoken to River yet and it was weighing heavily on him. How could he apologize now without it appearing he was more interested in her plan to take a slice off hide of Fanti and Mingo? With a heavy sigh he set the auto pilot and left the bridge. He stood in front of River’s compartment for a moment before turning to tap on Zoë’s hatch.

When she opened the hatch and looked up at him he was surprised to find she looked as though she’d been sleeping.

“Can I come in?” he asked as he gestured inward.

Zoë sighed and then moved to allow him entrance. Mal climbed down and again experienced the uncertainty that had been plaguing him all day. He had known Zoë for a long time, but he wasn’t sure how he should be dealing with her in this situation.

When Zoë sat tiredly down on the edge of her bed Mal took a moment to glance around. The box stood unopened beside the bed and the tattered remnants lay scattered across the rumbled bedclothes.

“You ain’t looked to see what she done?” he asked quietly.

“She destroyed all Wash’s things that’s what she done!” Zoë’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp.

“I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the girl’s head, but she’s been actin’ real whole like of late.”

With a humorless laugh Zoë glared at Mal. “Maybe Inara was right.”

“Inara,” Mal was confused what could Inara have to do with this conversation. “What are you talkin’ about?”

“Just she tried to tell me you couldn’t see the forest for the girl and I’m thinkin’ she’s right.” He watched as Zoë’s fingers fluttered over the scraps of cloth at her side. Her words angered him on more than one level.

First was that he had supported Zoë today and hurt River in the process. Second because Inara was slinkin’ around his boat spreadin’ discord. “I can’t speak to that, but I do know that I had your back today and I hurt someone that was beginning to care for me in the process. So, forgive me if I get a little defensive when I am accused of not bein’ loyal.” “Sir…” Zoë’s eyes registered his hurt and showed it back to him. “I didn’t mean…”She lowered her head and took a deep breath. “I don’t question your loyalties, Sir. I hope you know that besides Wash you are the only other man that I trust.”

“Then trust me, Zoë. Trust me when I tell you that she is different than she was.” He knelt in front of her and took her hands. “I ain’t sayin’ she won’t have her days. That would be irrational thinkin’ with what them bastards done to her, but she’s been more whole of late.”

Picking up the box he gently lay it in Zoë’s lap. “I think you should open this.” His quiet words were a command.

When Zoë lifted the lid at first she didn’t understand, but after a moment staring in confusion she put a trembling hand out to trace the dinosaur quilted into the blanket that lay on top. She recognized bits and pieces of some of her man’s shirts stitched together to make up the landscape and the goofy dinosaur centered on it. Pulling it out of the box she let it unfurl. It was a smallish blanket like you would use for a baby. It weren’t much use for anything…else. Zoë felt her heart stop for a moment and then stutter hopefully back to life.

Mal leaned over to retrieve a scrape of paper that had fallen from the folds of the tiny quilt when she opened it. Flipping the paper over, he saw a decidedly elegant female script.

“Simon’s a boob, but even he will figure it out sooner or later.” Mal read aloud. “Wash loved you so deeply that when I couldn’t help but see the deepest thoughts in his mind they were all you. They were love like ocean waves and warm sand. I took pieces of his life to give comfort to the love he created in you.”

When he met Zoë’s gaze she had a look of wonder on her face as she hugged the dinosaur blanket to her chest. Looking down he noticed the blanket wasn’t the only thing in the box. Gently reaching inside he withdrew tiny shirts and what looked like miniature underclothes.

The sight of them had laughter bubbling up inside him and he pulled Zoë into a tight hug. “Guess I’ll be callin’ you mama from now on.”

“Only if you want me to shoot you, Sir.”

* * * * *

River was sitting in the co-pilots chair when Zoë found her. The girl appeared to be doing nothing more than staring into space now, but Zoë was almost sure she’d heard the girl flipping switches when she’d first ascended the steps the other side of the bridge.

Zoë’s eyes took in the deceptively calm posture of the girl and figured that she wasn’t going to make this easy on her. “I’m sorry,” Zoë said without preamble or fanfare. “I’m not usually one for histrionics.”

“Nothin’ to be sorry for,” River said her eyes focused on the velvet blackness spread before her. “I destroyed Wash’s things and didn’t tell you why, but when I found them in the hold I didn’t think you would mind.” “Well, I ain’t one to back away from admittin’ I’m wrong, rare though it may be.”

“Not so wrong about me Zoë I am a crazy remorseless shrew.”

“I was angry.”

“You were right, I am crazy, I was remorseless and the things going through my mind were particularly shrewish.”

“You ain’t crazy, least ways not so much as you was before you got all that terribleness out of your brain.”

“It isn’t out, but I don’t carry the guilt of all those people’s death anymore.” River said as she gently stroked the console to her left drawing comfort from Serenity’s solidity. “I’m just sorry I couldn’t have saved those killed because of me. I hear their screams mingled with all the others that have gone before even though I wasn’t the one that did the killing. You and Mal don’t blame me, but I blame myself.”

“You ain’t done nothin’ to feel guilty about River what was done was done by others.”

“Next time I won’t let you or Mal or any of the others suffer because of me.” River told her quietly.

“What do you mean by that?” Zoë asked a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“Only that I won’t let them take anything else from you or Mal, not ever again.” Zoë nodded at this, still confused, but was sure that River would say no more on the subject.

“Is it true,” Zoë asked as she slowly walked over to the place that was synonymous with her man and stroked one of the dinosaur’s heads.

“Yes,” she finally turned toward Zoë a small smile in her eyes. “Simon only sees sickness when he looks, never the good. That’s the hazard of having a trauma surgeon for your OBGYN.”

“Well, then I guess there is always Jayne.” River turned an ‘are you crazy’ look on Zoë who looked back totally serious at least for a moment and then they were laughing.

“Well ain’t that a beautiful sound,” Mal said as he stepped onto the bridge.

Zoë smiled and nodded before turning to leave them alone. “Dinner is in twenty-five, sir.”

Mal simply lifted a hand in acceptance, but his eyes remained trained on the girl in the co-pilot’s seat. She hadn’t flinched or even acknowledged his presence since he arrived. Just stopped laughing. He figured he deserved that, but it didn’t mean he liked it.

“So, are you gonna give me the silent treatment the rest of the way to Beaumont?” He should have known her bein’ female she’d try to use wiles on him.

“I just have nothing to say, Captain.” River gave him a withering look her eyes flashing. “I ain’t Inara!”

“I never said you was.”

“If I ever use my wiles on you, Captain, believe me you won’t be complaining. You’ll be dead.”

That shocked him. “There ain’t any cause for that, little albatross.”

“There is every cause. I’m not a girl. I’m just a crazy whacked out weapon living in a dream.” She unfolded from her chair and moved to exit the bridge, but Mal put out a hand to stop her. Much the same as he’d done earlier only more gentle. He felt his heart rend as she shied away from him, but fortified his resolve to talk this out and apologize.

When she turned from him to face the blackness outside Mal turned and shut the door to the bridge. He didn’t want any interruptions. When he turned back to her she was standing in front of the window on the lower deck. She looked like a wounded bird and he thought of that Earth-that-was poem once again. Mal wondered if he hadn’t done exactly what the ancient mariner had warned against.

“This ain’t a dream,” Mal ground out. “This ain’t a dream, you ain’t a weapon and I am damned sure you’re a girl.”

Heaving a heavy sigh he slowly made his way down the steps to stand behind her at the window. Her face was reflected in the glass like a mirror and he couldn’t help but think how beautiful she was. Her eyes were closed but he knew she was aware of his approach.

“River,” the husky way he said her name pulled her eyes open to meet his in the glass. “I ain’t no good at this. Most times I don’t apologize for what I do, but you have to believe me. I am sorry! I had no intention of hurtin’ you.”

“I know…You were feeling for Zoë.” She said slowly letting her gaze slide away from his. “You hate seeing her like this, almost as broken as you or me.”

“I’m guessin’ you’re right about that, but I had no right to touch you in such a fashion.” Mal spoke softly his eyes tracing over her hair and the curve of her shoulders. “A man ain’t a man that touches what’s precious to him like that without remorse.”

“Precious…” She murmured and his eyes tried to find hers in the glass but she was gazing up into the black. “How does it feel to be precious?” Her eyes slid from her perusal of the black to catch his burning gaze.

Moving forward until his front lightly pressed to her back. He placed his hands on the glass before them. His eyes never leaving hers he leaned forward so that his head was bent over hers and his lips close to her ear.

“It feels like warmth when you’re cold and a cool breeze when you think you’ll burn.” He nuzzled her hair with his nose. His eyes were like burning coals consuming her. “It feels like all your broken bits ain’t broke no more. Like finally not havin’ to hold on to the world so tight, because I won’t let you fall”

Her breathing became ragged and she let her head fall to his shoulder. “It’s knowin’ that even if I cut you with my broken bits I didn’t mean it and it weren’t my intention.”

Slipping one arm around her delicate waist and stroked her side with his fingers. “It’s knowin’ I would die to protect you and that I lo…” His words faltered for a moment before he pressed his lips to her ear. “It’s knowin’ you’re safe an’ ain’t nobody gonna hurt you. Not ever again.”

He turned her slowly to face him. “It’s knowin’ that I’m more because of you and that together we’ll be whole.” He gently kissed the tears from beneath her eyes before sliding caressingly to hover above her lips. “It’s knowin’ that I love you.” Then he pressed a soft and gentle kiss to her lips.

It was a chaste kiss, but steeped in emotion, and Mal had to fight against his male instinct to claim her mouth in a more intimate fashion. With every ounce of restraint he could pull to the fore, he continued the gentle brush of his lips back and forth against her trembling lips.

When he knew he couldn’t hold out against his desire another second he cupped her face with his hands and pulled away. Eyes still tightly closed, he was aware of the length of her quivering against him and the burning that poured through him like melted sugar at the feel of her.

Slowly opening his eyes, he met her equally impassioned gaze. Becoming aware for the first time that as chaste as the kiss had been he had without thought backed her flush against the glass behind her. Straightening and stepping away from her as quickly as his sluggish brain could form the command, he ran a shaking hand through his hair.

River cocked her head to the side and studied him, her cheeks flushed and her mind racing with the newness of that kiss. It was nothing like when Simon kissed her. This experience was so totally foreign to her and yet felt as though she’d known it from the moment she’d walked from the wreckage of that ship on Miranda and met his gaze.

Maybe if she was honest she would admit that even before she’d sensed something deeper for Serenity’s Captain. During the more lucid moments she’d had these last nine months she’d slowly begun to feel and usually those feelings were linked part and parcel with Captain Mal Reynolds.

She could feel his emotions spinning out off him, like the flat spin Serenity had gone into shortly before she crashed on Mr. Universe’s Moon. Puzzled she stepped into him and cupped his cheek. “You’re afraid.” She whispered as she searched his eyes.

“That’s a fair bet, boa bei.” He answered, also whispering as he trapped her gentle fingers against his cheek, closing his eyes. He was an old man and he was living in the delusion that he could have such a treasure as River Tam. She deserved so much more than the brokenness that he had to offer.

“You’re wrong,” she said as she stood on tip-toes to press her lips to his. “We deserve what makes us happy.”

Feeling the wet heat of her lips moving against his pulled a groan from his throat and he would have thrown away his every good intention if the planetary alert hadn’t gone off at that moment.

Pulling away he noticed that they had indeed arrived at Beaumont. Once more stepping away from her tempting heat, he ran a hand through his hair and climbed the steps to the helm.

“We’re gonna have to orbit the planet. So, I want you to figure the coordinates for a geosynchronous orbit, but don’t make it too close or our orbit might decay and we’ll end up kissin’ the dirt in a permanent like fashion.”

“Aye, Captain,” she said as she took her place at his side in the co-pilot’s chair and began tapping away at the console before her. “Would you like me to complete the maneuver?”

Everything in him wanted to say no, but instead he just fixed her with a stern Captainy look and uttered commandingly, “My ship don’t crash, you see to that.”

“Aye, Captain,” she rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath something Mal couldn’t hear.

“What was that?”

“I said and I thought Simon could be a boob,” her long-suffering sigh was followed by a happy giggle.

With a sure hand she steered aft and bear away, bringing Serenity’s helm a-lee. So, she faced into the black and her stern bear up to the planet. Soon they were in a stable G-sync and Mal was once again staring at his little River with something akin to wonder and a lot of respect.

“You done good, little Albatross, I couldn’t ‘a done no better.” She threw him a superior look and then laughed ruining the effect.

Mal found himself smiling along with her, his heart light with the tinkle of her mirth in his ear. Setting the controls of the auto-pilot to maintain the G-sync and turning on the proximity alert, he stood up and offered her his hand. “Dinner’s most like to be on the table and if’n you’re hungry we need to get to it before Jayne makes a hog of hisself.”

Taking his hand in hers she smiled and followed the Captain to the bridge door, but before he opened it she pulled him to a stop. “Thank you,” she said fervently.

Mal’s brow furrowed and he shook his head letting her know he was confused. She simply smiled at him and placed his hand to her cheek. When he turned to her, she stepped a bit closer and nuzzled her cheek into his palm. “Thank you for having faith in me, for understanding me and for taking care with me.” She turned her lips to his palm and kissed it gently, before meeting his eyes and slipping the tip of her tongue against the sensitive flesh.

Mal groaned and had to concentrate not to act on the many pictures that flowed through his mind. “The music is almost finished, Captain.” She told him quietly with a sexy little smile, she stepped between him to open the door.

Zoë watched as River and the Captain entered the kitchen. River stopped as she entered the door and frowned a bit, but her face cleared when the strong hand fell on her shoulder. The look on Mal’s face wasn’t as pleasant as he took in those seated at the table. Wondering what could have the pair actin’ all bothered Zoë inspected the table.

Glancing to her left she found Kaylee and Jayne. The foot of the table was empty and the spot to the left of that was also vacant although there was a place setting already arranged there. Simon sat across the table, looking stonily at the Captain and Inara to the right of the head of the table tryin’ to look calm and cool as always. So, that was what was going on.

Zoë was a little worried about how the Captain was going to handle this. Zoë’d already been privy to Mal’s feelings in regard to River. It was something she’d seen building slowly over the last nine months, but that had taken a huge leap forward after Miranda.

With a gentle pressure on the girl’s shoulder, they came all the way into the room. Zoë watched as Mal went to the kitchen and heated up water to prepare two cups of tea. While River casually walked over to the table, retrieved the chopsticks and plate from the head of the table and set them at the foot.

Giving her brother a haughty look and a glinting stare to the Companion, River adjusted her place setting a few more inches toward the foot of the table. Mal placed a steaming cup in front of River and then put his hand to the back of her chair waiting for her to sit. Only then did he seat himself and pull the platter nearest Jayne toward them, loading the melon onto River’s plate while she dished out risotto for them both.

Zoë could fairly see the steam rising off Simon’s head as the two continued to make each other’s plates. It was an extremely sappy thing for them to be doing and if Zoë hadn’t seen the Captain fighting a grin or River rolling her eyes as he placed a goodly chunk of TVP, textured vegetable protein, on her plate she might have been as disturbed as the others.

However, she had seen them and found herself adding to their little joke by heaving a contented sigh ‘oohhing’ and ‘ahhing’ over the sickeningly saccharine scene. When Mal met her gaze over the risotto expertly grasped between his chopsticks, he winked at her and then began to eat.

Jayne was oblivious to the by-play as he fed his face. Kaylee was picking at her food as she shot looks back and forth between the foot of the table and the increasingly angry man in front of her.

Inara was calmly eating her rations without looking at anyone in particular. Simon was clenching his napkin in one hand and his fork in the other. The color of his face was becoming more and more frightening. Zoë had seen a man turn that shade right before he got brain blown. Zoë was beginning to think that the Captain’s usually rash behavior might have been a better idea as apposed to the quiet rebellion they’d staged. Mal could tell that the tension in the room was heating up, even before River set her fork to the side of her plate. With a trembling hand she pushed her hair behind her ear and met his gaze. He could only imagine what was going through the minds of the others. He wished he could take some of what was bombarding her and made a note to discuss the possibility with her later.

For now he was tired of the stillness from Simon and the cool and conniving way Inara ate as though she hadn’t been the cause of the younger man’s anxiety. Zoë seemed okay with the changes in hisself and River and Jayne was predictably clueless to the mood of the table. Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he smiled at his little albatross before pushing his plate toward the middle of the table.

“River has a plan for a getting’ us the money we need to fix the rear extender.” Simon flinched at the sound of the Captain’s voice. “Just put us in G-sync around Beaumont so when ya’ll are done eatin’ I’m gonna let her run through it for ya.”

“We got a job?” Jayne said around another mouth full of risotto.

“We do at that, seems I remember that Fanti and Mingo made off with our take from the trade station vault.” Mal told the table as River finished the last of her melon and drained her cup of tea. Taking her cup, he went and made them both another cup.

“That ain’t all. Since Haven I been tryin’ to figure out how it was that the Alliance figured on who to touch that would put us in a hurtin’.” He continued as he stirred the hot water into the cups.

When he moved back to the table, he handed River her cup and smiled reassuringly at her. “There ya go, darlin’,” he took his seat and continued. “River had a look see in that tamade hundan’s head and got me the answer to my questions.”

“You had no right to ask her to do that.” Simon said as he came to his feet tossing his napkin to the table. “Don’t you think she’s been used by enough people? Is that why you seem all cozy with her? Are you throwing her a bone to keep her in check?”

Mal’s eyes glinted as he too stood up. “Your mouth is talkin’, Doctor! You might want to check what it’s sayin’!”

Simon’s eyes hardened even more as Mal’s words sunk in. “She’s my sister…” he began.

“That’s a fact that ain’t been questioned, Doctor.” Mal said as he moved away from the table, drawing Simon’s gaze away from River. “That bein’ said I think you need to be apologizin’ to her for that last little bit.”

“Excuse me?” Simon demanded as he also stepped around the table.

“I said you need to apologize to your sister.” He repeated as Simon came to stand in his face. “She’s a reader and she’d be knowin’ before the rest of you if I was playin’ fast and loose with her affections. I ain’t worried about what you think o’ me ‘cause I ain’t usin’ her. I do care that you think she can’t see what’s what.”

“I think you’re forgetting that she’s a mentally traumatized teenage girl.” Simon pushed himself into Mal’s personal space. “She probably doesn’t even understand what it all means.” Mal felt his back go up at that. River was sittin’ right over there listening to this go se.

“She’s also sitting right here, Simon.” River’s voice cut across anything else Mal would have thrown out. “Just in case you’d like to speak to me instead of ignore me like an idiot stepchild!”

Mal caught her eye as she stood up and moved toward them with that deadly grace she’d shown first in the Maidenhead. From the corner of his eye he saw the flicker of movement and turned cold eyes on the now standing companion. “Goin’ someplace Inara?” he asked as he flicked a glance at Zoë. It was a quiet sign for her to block any attempt by the other woman to leave the kitchen. “Seems you put a few balls in motion the past few days and maybe you aught to sit down and wait for ‘em to roll back round to ya.”

“River…” Simon said in an irritatingly placating way he saved for her crazier moments.

“Don’t!” She told him fiercely. “Just don’t. If you can’t see me for what I am, then don’t get involved with what you have no understanding of.”

“River, you can’t possibly be ready for…” he waved his hand toward the Captain. “You’re gonna get hurt.”

“You are hurting me…You don’t see me. The real me! You just see the broken pieces that used to be your sister, but right now I am me. I won’t ever be that girl anymore. I’m what they made me into. Just like you are what all the events you experienced has made you.” River turned her eyes toward him and Mal felt his heart beat faster. “Mal sees me. He understands how a person can be torn up and broken and still be human.”

“You’ve been through some traumatic experiences recently and I don’t think you should get into a ...” he hesitated before adding. “…Relationship.”

“Simon you are the last person to say such a thing.” River said as she eyed Kaylee over his shoulder. Her brother blushed and his gaze swinging to Kaylee as well. “It took a life and death situation for you to see you needed Kaylee…”

Frowning she stepped in front of her brother and eyed him steadily. When she spoke her words were quiet and meant only for the three of them. “You walk away from Kaylee so that you can be sanctimonious and you’ll be worse than what you’re accusin’ Mal of. If you ain’t serious about Kaylee, you walk away, she ain’t a whore.”

“I didn’t say…” he started to say.

“But you thought it.” River said in the same quiet voice. “Kaylee is like Mal’s mei-mei and for you to even think of ending your relationship so you can sit in judgment of him makes me ashamed to call you kin.” Stepping back she linked her arm with Mal’s. “We haven’t done anything for you to worry about. Unlike some aboard this ship he has respect for what he finds precious to him.”

“You can’t judge me because of a fleeting thought.” Simon countered.

“And you can’t judge me on what I was when you found me.” She gazed tiredly at her brother. “You can’t measure me against the little girl you watched board that transport for the Academy. She’s long dead and this is who she’s become. Take it or leave it, but don’t think to meddle in my life unless I need medical help.”

Mal watched the emotions flitting across the younger man’s face and he could understand his desire to see his sister safe. “I want you to know that I have no intention of hurtin’ River and I ain’t got any plans to start anything…” he couldn’t find the correct word, but then just settled for, “Unseemly. I know you’ve probably been led to believe that I’m ignorant and that I’m just enjoyin’ a little ego boost, but I ain’t.”

Though the Captain’s words and manner were earnest and open, they angered Simon almost to the point of violence. He felt his muscles tense in his arm and he thought he could just do it. Just let fly and punch the man in the face. He’d make the hit too because the Captain wouldn’t be expecting it. He’d barely thought it and started to let his fist fly when he felt a grip on his shoulder that paralyzed all movement from that arm.

His wide-eyed gaze flew to his sister’s. “River what…”

“I love you, Simon. But if you ever try and strike him, I’ll be forced to defend him. The same as you’d defend Kaylee from me if there was ever a need. Do we have an understanding between us?”

Unable to speak, he just nodded. When she released his shoulder he felt the throbbing ache and was glad when he could gingerly move his arm again. “If he ever hurts you I’ll…”

“If’n I ever hurt her you’ll have to stand in line behind River and I, before you’ll get the chance.” Mal told the young man solemnly. “If she don’t kill me I’ll do it myself. That bein’ said I think we need to get to the details of the job.”

Moving back to the table Mal gathered their two cups and made them fresh tea as River began outlining her plan. Mal was impressed; her planning was even more detailed than her brother’s single foyer into the life of a criminal mastermind. She detailed each person’s job and even had things timed down to the minute. She even headed off her brother’s protests by outlining how she was going to jam the cortex link and interfere with any broad wave transmissions they might still be sending out to manipulate her.

“Well, now that seems straight forward, but you didn’t say what I was to be doin’ while you and the Captain is busy with Fanti and Mingo.” Zoë said as she stood and gathered her plate and cup from the table.

“It isn’t safe.” River said.

“Ain’t nothin’ ever been safe about this business.” Zoë countered.

“Even having, Mal there is a danger to the plan, but I know he wouldn’t let me go in alone.” River said. “The probability of things going bad is doubled with him present, but they treble when you are formulated in to the equation. You need to stay on the ship or things more important than money may be lost.” River gave Zoë a look that spoke volumes.

Many were surprised when Zoë simply closed her mouth and then nodded in understanding, her eyes troubled. None more than Mal but he was glad that River was taking into account Zoë’s condition when assigning tasks.

“You won’t be stuck on the ship all the time, but when I know there is a risk I’ll tell Mal and you two can decide if you should take it or not.” River said as she picked up the plates before herself and Mal. “Kaylee, you and my brother have K.P. tonight, Mal’s just been too nice to make a fuss over all the dishes he’s been doing these last few days.”

When Kaylee and Simon began the dishes and Jayne headed to his bunk grumbling about crazy girls plannin’ crime, Inara once more made an attempt to leave the kitchen. She was intercepted by Zoë; who just inclined her head back toward the table.

With long studied calmness and poise, Inara returned to her seat. Her head held high and a superior air to her beautiful features. For a moment Mal just stared at the woman, a vague sense of having dodged a bullet in the back of his brain. River moved to sit on the table where he normally sat with her feet in his chair. She was staring Inara down and Mal couldn’t help but feel slightly sorry for the woman on the receiving end of those eyes.

Moving to stand at River’s side, he stroked her hair over her shoulder and then turned his own hard gaze on the now tentative Companion.

Inara thinking that she’d find a port of harbor with Mal turned her eyes on him, but the look in his usually warm blue eyes made her flinch. When Mal saw this he tangled his fingers in River’s hair and whispered for her to go get ready for the job. He kissed her temple as he helped her from her perch.

“Zoë, I want you to fit River with a sidearm and once we get to Sihohn I want the two of you to do some buyin’. You’ll both be needin’ new things.”

Mal watched as two of the most important women in his life left in companionable silence before he turned back to Inara. He was aware of Kaylee staring wide-eyed at his back, but just ignored her for the moment.

“It has been brought to my attention that you’ve been a mite busy of late. I told you before Haven that if you were gonna tear me down do it in your own head, but obviously you didn’t take me at my word.” Mal stepped away from the table and wrapped his arms around his chest. Looking down his nose at her, he gestured toward the crew compartments. “You see Jayne made a similar mistake back on Ariel. That mistake nearly got him sucked out the airlock as we broke atmo.”

Inara gasped and Kaylee squeaked in protest. Mal just turned his hard gaze on Kaylee, “This ain’t to do with you, little Kaylee.” Kaylee tucked her head and went back to dryin’ the dishes.

Turning back to Inara he was pleased to see the apparent unease across her penciled brow. “Now I won’t be spacin’ ya, Inara, but I can’t have you always sewin’ discord among my crew.” He gestured toward Kaylee. “When you took off last time I took the brunt of the blame and that hurt my relationship with someone I feel for like a sister.”

Mal gave a small nod to Kaylee. “I kept my piece and I didn’t contradict the impression you left her with, because I was still fightin’ with myself on certain things.” He turned back to Inara with a fierce scowl on his handsome face. “Little Kaylee thought I’d wronged you by not sayin’ how I felt and askin’ ya to stay. She didn’t know that I’d nearly told ya I had some feelin’s for ya when you shut me down and announced you was leavin’.”

“Why didn’t you ask me to stay?” she asked quietly, her words meant to manipulate.

“I didn’t ask ya to stay because I knew that I didn’t care for ya the way a man should aught to care for a woman he has permanent plans on.”

“Mal…” Inara said quietly. Earnestly as she leaned forward in her chair, but Mal just raised his hand to quiet her.

“There ain’t nothin’ to be said,” he moved through the room until he was facing the young man beside Kaylee. “I was startin’ to feel a bit partial for little River as far back as the ‘Early incident’, but I just pushed it aside. Called myself all sorta bastard for even entertainin’ the idea.” He turned back to Inara and continued. “So, I set about alianatin’ the Doc and gettin’ his back up so’s he’d want to leave. That weren’t easy and it weren’t safe for either of them.”

“After our last visit to the Maidenhead I was furious that the Doc hadn’t told me all I needed to know, but I realized that no matter what kind of trouble I was headed for River needed me and I wasn’t gonna let her down.” He gave Inara an intense look before he continued. “I said all that for the Doctor’s benefit. I want him to understand that I’d protect his sister with my life if needs be. I also wanted to make a point that anything that hurts her…Be it from friend or foe, they’ll answer to me.”

Mal watched as the other woman worked to process what was being said and wondered why he’d never acknowledged the manipulative side to the woman he spent so much time lustin’ after.

“Does that mean you want me to leave when we get to Sihohn?” Her voice quiet and her body language contrite. Damn, but she knew her arts.

“I ain’t said that.” Mal said as he moved to make some tea. “You are more than welcome to stay on rentin’ the shuttle or as part of the crew. Not sure what use you’d be but we could do with a permanent cook or even someone to do the washin’ up at night.” Standing straighter, his eyes narrowed on Inara’s as he spoke with deathly intent. “That bein’ said if you ever go behind my back to spread discord amongst my crew again I’ll be settin’ ya down on the nearest rock. I don’t give a gorram if’n it’s a desert moon with nary a person for a hundred miles or a minin’ colony short on women folk. Don’t think for a moment that I’ll ignore any attempt to stab me in the back, dong ma!”

When Inara just stared wide-eyed her mouth agape, he finished preparing a cup of tea and headed for his bunk to get ready for the job ahead.

COMMENTS

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 3:48 PM

ZMANN966


excellente'

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 3:48 PM

ZMANN966


ohh and quite lengthy too...

took me awhile to read it, but worth every second.

how long did that take you?! O_o

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 8:47 PM

OBSIDIANAGIRL


I began this fic on the 7th of January and I added to it bit by bit at my site. I have part three in the works it bein' more action and with some plot twisting is going to be posted around the weekend.

THANKS FOR THE SHINY! I love feedback.

Obsidiana Girl

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 2:29 AM

HUMBUG


Fantastic!

The length of the story really let you get into the characters heads and hearts.

Really moving, especially River and Mal's burgeoning closeness, Simon's anger and misunderstanding, and Inara's feelings of disappointment and betrayal that Mal chose River over her. And I love how River and Mal are both trying to help and support Zoe, who seems to be the only crew member who sees how it really is between Mal and River.

Just Shiny!!! Keep writing!! What's your site called (where you first post your fanfic)??!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 5:28 AM

OBSIDIANAGIRL


Thank you for the SHINY! I love finding out how people feel about what I've written and getting any little plot points ironed out that may be unclear...so, thank you for posting some nice SHINY.


THE SPECIAL HELL is the name of my site and the addy is...

http://www.thespecialhell.com/

I also have been posting to the Mal/River LJ, but I update The Special Hell as soon as a new Fic is ready to post.

Thanks again for the SHINY!

Sid

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 9:40 AM

AMDOBELL


Wow! I am utterly blown away with the brilliant tale and I just loved Mal spelling things out for Inara at last and in front of Kaylee and Simon so they would see for once and for all just what she had been up to. It was awesome the way River stood up to Simon and laid out her case, must have been painful too but it was necessary. My absolutely favourite line though was when River said, "We deserve what makes us happy". Gorramit, if those aren't words to live by. Kudos to you and a thousand thanks. Just loving this to itty bitty pieces - and then some. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Wednesday, February 1, 2006 9:51 AM

OBSIDIANAGIRL


Thanks I am so glad you liked it! Thanks for the SHINY I try really hard to get the characters right.

River and Simon...River was more stable at the end of the BDM and Simon is such a boob that I doubt he would see it right away. It would be painful for them both, but necessary if they are to grow from this point onward.

As to Inara the whole vid-cap with Kaylee made me mad, because we all saw the DVD episode Heart of Gold and we knew that Mal started to open up to that biotch and she shut him down faster than windows after a critical error.

Don't even get me started on the whole, "That man doesn't know what he wants..." line...

Thanks again for the SHINY.

SID

Wednesday, February 8, 2006 1:33 PM

OBSIDIANAGIRL


No, just Obsidiana Girl!

*wink*

Glad you liked it!

SID

Saturday, February 11, 2006 1:12 PM

BELLONA


god, inara is a BEETCH!!!! i love this so much. the note in the box had me in tears and my ribs hurt so bad from laughing when they were making each others plates.

b


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