Author's Note: First Firefly/Serenity fic, so please don't shoot me. Takes place two years after Serenity the movie.

Disclaimer: I own nothing. But god do I wish I did.

Never Goes Right

The job was supposed to be easy. Pick up the cargo, drag it cross half the 'verse and leave it all nice and pretty with the contacts; hopefully leaving with their skins and the pay they were due as well.

Funny how things never worked that way where Mal and his crew were concerned.

" We ain't wantin' no trouble here fella's. Just came to do our job." Mal said calmly to the gun staring him in the face. He only got the sound of the hammer cocking for his trouble at reasoning with the hired guns.

They'd been expecting trouble with the shipment to Whitefall, one requested by Patience herself which made it even more of a twitchy sort of job. River must of known something was going to go wrong as well since she jumped onto the mule before Mal or Simon could stop her. And despite the added worry on his shoulders for bringing the still mending woman with him, Mal had to admit he was relieved to have her foresight along for the ride.

Lot of good it did them though. So far the number was ten to four. Two men each trained on Mal and Zoe, one on River and four wisely trained on Jayne who had unloaded the most weaponry into the pile of guns on the ground. The ringleader was strutting up and down the Serenity's lined up crew.

" And that's just what we don't want you to do Captain Reynolds. Cause ya see, if you do your job then I don't get the nice finders fee for getting the cargo to Patience first."

The man was a few heads shorter then Mal with a grisly smile and even nastier garments covering his sorry ass. He made Badger look like he belonged in the same class as Simon. Mal had personally dubbed the man Rat, seemed suiting enough.

" Good, that means you can just pay for the cargo and let us be on our way then." Mal said cheerfully, being rewarded by Zoe's rolled eyes and River's infamous 'your an idiot' look. Mal shot River a cocky grin before Rat was suddenly sneering in his face, too close for comfort.

" No, I don't think so Captain. But maybe you can pay 'us' for the trouble of catching you all with your pants down." The grisly man said, having caught where Mal's eyes had been.

Mal's blood suddenly began to boil when he caught the little scum's drift as Rat moved over to stand in front of River, inspecting her with his eyes. And by the look on the readers face his thoughts were on the far left side of descent. River's steely eyes slid over to Mal's, very clearly telling him without a lick of mind reading involved 'don't do it Mal'.

" I bet you'll make a nice pet, won't ya baby?"

Zoe and Jayne tensed, ready to move even if the mercs didn't give them the chance. Mal was more then willing to take out the go tsao de hwun dan himself, but he made a faint gesture with his hand to stay his crew from doing anything rash. For the time being anyway.

Rat took River's chin in his hand and pulled her face to the side, inspecting what Mal hoped for the man's sake he better inspect no further. River yanked free and glared, it was enough to make the man take a step back without realizing it.

River opened her mouth and Mal felt every muscle in his body tighten as the adrenaline pumped through him.

" Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand. I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me..."

Everyone went silent for a moment, all eyes on the woman who had just opened her mouth and started singing for some odd reason. Rat looked rightly spooked because River's gaze had yet to leave him and her voice was sounding like a defiant mantra meant to curse him.

" You keep quiet now lil' one." Rat warned, though there was a fearful waver in his voice. River was obviously peeked when she heard Mal's usual endearment for her used by this man.

"Take me out to the black, tell them I ain't coming back..." She continued, annunciated every word harshly. Managing to get every pair of eyes on her and sending a chill down Mal's back that he hadn't felt in the two years since Miranda. What in the 'verse was this fong luh woman doing?!

Rat was more then a bit jumpy now by River's behavior, and jumpy men do stupid things.

" Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me. There's no place I can be..."

" Bizui!" The man shouted before River could finish the verse and slapped her squarely across the mouth. The action was enough of a distraction for Jayne to sneak closer to their guns and for Mal to clench his fist.

River didn't move for a moment, she had to of seen it coming, she'd practically egged the man into doing it. When she did turn her face back to him, there was a twisted smile there, a line of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. It was a sight that made everyone in the room's blood run cold.

" ...since I found Serenity."

Jayne took the initiative the moment the words passed River's bloody lips, Serenity was the code word for 'go'. Jayne dove for the pile of guns, barreling straight into the four guns trained on him that had been too busy watching River and her bloody sing along. River disarmed the man guarding her by grabbing the barrel of his pistol and using the heel of her booted foot to send him skidding a few feet across the room without his weapon. There were suddenly guns in both Zoe and Mal's hands, trained on each of their guards.

" I'd put 'em down if I was you." Mal said in mock politeness that the mercenaries were quick to obey.

Mal gave them a grin. " Thank ya kindly." He holstered his gun. " Jayne, tie 'em up."

" Aye captain." Jayne said with a grin of his own while Zoe fetched the rope.

Rat had been too startled by River to even react during the short lived fight between his and Malcolm Reynolds crew. But Mal's fist connecting with his face sure brought him back into a painful reality.

Mal shook his stinging hand, too damned proud of laying the man out on his ass to worry too much about the pain. He remembered telling Simon that you're told never to hit a man with a closed fist...

" But it is on occasion hilarious." River finished, remembering the moment in the infirmary as well as he did no doubt. Mal turned to her and grinned, but it faded quickly when he spotted the blood and bruising that was beginning to form around the one side of her mouth.

" Everyone back on the mule." Mal ordered, taking River's hand to lead her there without argument.

" And the cargo captain?" Zoe asked curiously.

" Load it up. Patience ain't got the decency to meet us half way then we sell it somewhere else."

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On the trip back River sat in the back of the mule with Jayne while the bigger man checked all his precious weapons. She could feel the anger building in Mal, growing stronger the closer they got to Serenity, most of it directed at her. She almost winced as he kept replaying Rat slapping her in his mind and the various things he'd wanted to do to the man instead of just knocking him out .

Mal didn't even help her out of the mule once they were parked in the cargo bay. Simon and Kaylee's quick feet were heard on the catwalk and River turned around to climb down so it delayed her brothers vision of the now livid bruise on her face.

She caught Mal's gaze in the process and glared at her something fierce.

" Have the doc patch you up, I'll be gettin' us off this rock."

It was an order, the captain wasn't in the mood for asking.

River turned and heard the inevitable gasp from her brother.

" Wuh de tyen, ah. River, how did you get that?!" Simon demanded, letting his hand hover over the bruise instead of touching it.

" Thank your sister that's all we got Doc."

River turned to confront Mal then, tell him it had been the only way to distract them all, tell him the girl, his girl, was all right. But the captain had already beat a retreat and River was left to her brother's ever worrying devices for now.

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Ten minutes after they hit atmo River had escaped the infirmary, without any stitches to Simon's relief and the traces of blood washed out of her mouth. It would take a week before the swelling went down and in the mean time the space around her mouth would be turning all types of pretty shades of black and blue. She knew it would probably make Mal even angrier but there was nothing she could to about the outer bits, they had to heal. But the inner bits were a different story.

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Mal was sitting in the Wash's old chair, his eyes closed against the black and the ship flying peacefully along on autopilot.

He could feel her in the cockpit where she hadn't been just a moment ago. He was good enough now to tell when she was there but so far not good enough to see her coming, which left him no room to escape.

" You gonna stand there all day darlin' ?" He asked.

River made her way slowly towards him, silent on her bare feet. He was calm, at least verbally. But his mind was still raging, anger just under the surface and something else.

" Had to do it Mal, stopped the shooting."

That set him off. Mal was up on his feet, towering over River's shorter frame, something dark in his eyes.

" But it didn' stop that hwun dan from slappin' ya none. When I tell you ta keep an eye on everyone that's yourself included, your one of my crew too."

It was a flicker of light in his eyes that was only there for a nano second, something he'd been hiding from her under the anger. There was a bright flash of River laying on the ground in front of Rat, bleeding from a gun shot instead of a bloody lip. She saw Mal standing there, unable to do anything as she slowly bled out and died. It was his fear, and it was strong enough to make her gasp.

Mal flinched, realizing what he'd unconciously forced into her mind and backed up a step. River didn't let him get far before she wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head on his broad chest. Mal stiffened, refusing to let himself hold her, refusing to be reassured as more possible endings flashed through his mind. Most that ended up with her dead.

" Didn't happen, won't happen. I'm right here." She said softly. When she felt his mind relax but not his body River tightened her hold enough to squeeze some air out of his lungs. "Getting impatient." She growled in annoyance.

It managed to make Mal chuckle at his bao bei's lack of patience and wrapped strong arms around her, one hand tangling in her hair.

" Well don' go crushin' me. Can't rightly hold you if I got any broken bones, can I?" He asked, kissing the top of her head.

" Can't do other things either." River teased with a sly grin.

She took hold of Mal's collar and tugged him down, standing on tip toe to kiss him fiercely. The captain was wise enough not to argue and pulled her close, his lips roaming across the plains of her face. Butterfly kisses across her jaw, the tip of her nose, ghosting across the bruised side of her mouth and then coming back down to her lips , throwing more need and hunger for her in his actions as well as his thoughts.

When they pulled away to allow each other to breathe Mal narrowed his eyes at her. " This discussion ain't over River."

She looked up at him from behind a curtain of hair and dark lashes, a look that she knew went straight to Mal's head and his fingers in her hair tightened a little. " It's half time Mal," she informed him in her matter of fact way. " No one has the ball."

Mal gave her a look but River simply smiled, tugging free of his arms so she could take his hand. He missed her warmth immediately but followed her without a word as she led him back to the pilot's chair and playfully pushed him to sit down. But when she climbed into his lap Mal's mind went south and he tossed an alarmed gaze to see if anyone was coming to the bridge.

" Dung ee hwar River..." He started but she put a finger to his lips to stop him, then flicked his nose. " Hey!" Mal barked indignantly which only made River giggle.

" I didn't want to be with you right now," she said, poking fun at how quickly Mal's mind had gone to rot.

Mal rubbed his nose. " Then what are you doing?"

River smiled and shifted her body so she sat across his lap with her legs over the chair, her head resting on his shoulder. " Just want to be."

Mal relaxed, a warm smile lighting his face as his arms came round to cradle her.

" Well that's all right then." He mused out loud.

Mal's finger came to caress her skin tenderly, fingers brushing across her cheek and the hollow of her throat. His thoughts were calm now, drinking in the moment they shared and River was grateful, feeling the rumble of his chest as he absently hummed a tune with words she'd crafted with love for her ship and captain.

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