Disclaimer: None of these are my characters. Joss Whedon is the man (a.k.a. 'Joss is boss.')

Two months had passed since Simon discovered that River's amygdala had almost completely regenerated. Things had been coming a little easier since the crew started taking mostly legitimate jobs out of Osiris, though traveling into the Core was still tense at times.

The crew certainly enjoyed the extra money. Jayne, who was getting better booze and better sex than he was accustomed to, still managed to run himself nearly broke by the time the next job came up, though he never neglected to send some home to his Ma.

Simon was busily spoiling Kaylee, while she constantly admonished him to save it or spend it on himself. Simon answered all of her arguments by accusing her of hypocrisy, citing the absurd amount of her own take she always spent on him.

Inara, who had become more a part of the crew and less a Companion since Miranda, studiously saved her cut. Everybody began to notice, however, that there seemed to be new bits of shiny showing up throughout the ship, and everybody suspected their source, though nobody would come right out and ask.

Zoë, never one for waste, also saved her money. Serenity, eventually, might need an emergency fund. Zoë intended to have plenty stashed away for just such an occurrence.

River had begun to buy clothes that not only fit better, but showed her unique flair for style. Of course, she made sure to only pick things that wouldn't get in her way, should a job go south. Beyond that, she treated Serenity like Kaylee treated Simon, much to the Captain's consternation.

Mal figured that Serenity was his boat, and therefore his responsibility. The fact that River spent so much money on her was frustrating to him, as the Captain and as a stubborn man. For his own part, Mal saved also, but for a different reason than the others.


She had asked for it, and he had delivered.

River had been making wonderful progress within the past few months at only Reading people intentionally, so she had no clue it was coming until he was standing in front of her with it.

After a three day stop on Persephone, where they had delivered twenty crates of silk bolts and restocked the ship, Mal snuck away early from dinner. When he returned, he had a large bundle tucked under his arm, which he set down in front of River on the dinner table. Jayne had just finished clearing the dishes, and everybody was sitting around conversing amiably, in no rush to go anywhere.

"What's this?" River asked Mal suspiciously. Her voice didn't mask the excitement in her eyes, however, and he smiled as he told her to open it and find out. Tearing eagerly into the package, the petite pilot uncovered an expanse of brown suede. When she picked it up to unravel it and discover what this mysterious piece of material was, a weight shifted inside. Something heavy was wrapped inside this fabric.

As River began trying to unravel the package, she discovered a collar, then a sleeve. A long duster quickly took shape, and within moments, she was holding a coat, very similar to the Captain's, and another wrapped package. River stood up and donned the jacket, modeling for the rest of the crew.

"It's gorgeous on you!" Kaylee squealed, while Zoë lifted an eyebrow at Mal, holding an entire conversation in that one glance. Mal shot a look back at her, something along the lines of, 'I'll explain later.' Then he turned back to River and motioned to the still-wrapped bundle.

"You ain't done yet, lil' one," he said. River smiled up at him and reached for the package she'd set down in front of her. Pulling the packaging off this parcel more slowly than the last, she gasped when she saw the strip of leather and the glinting of metal in the lamplight.

A look of wonder and awe on her face, River slowly unrolled a beautifully stylized gun belt, a holster attached to either side. In each holster was an old fashioned looking six-shooter, made in a style similar to Mal's favorite pistol, the one he'd carried all through the war. The grips appeared to be pearl, and were engraved with gold R's on both sides.

Taking the belt from her hands, Mal slid it beneath the duster and around River's waist. He cinched it through the buckle, pulling it just tight enough that it rested comfortably on her hips. The Captain then tied the thin rawhide straps at the bottom of each holster around her thighs, attaching the belt and holsters firmly to her lithe form. The grips of the pistols were at the perfect height for River's delicate hands to grab at a moment's notice, and the holsters were just far enough back that, when the duster was released to fall at her sides, the guns were hidden from casual sight.

"Perfect," Mal said in satisfaction. River beamed at him, gratitude and love in every plane and angle of her face. She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around his midsection and pressing her cheek to his chest. Looking up at him after a lingering moment, River met his eyes and thanked him, before pressing her lips to his. The kiss seemed to last a bit longer than necessary, at least in a blushing Simon's mind.

Kaylee, beaming, exclaimed excitedly, "Cap'n, that's the sweetest thing I ever seen you do! River, you look just like Cap and Zoë now." Zoë once again raised an eyebrow at Mal, who shrugged and smiled at his first mate.

Jayne, ever the pessimist and always ready to spoil the mood, intoned, "I still think it's a ruttin' bad idea, lettin' the girl carry guns." At a sharp look from Inara, Jayne amended, "Be good to have a little extra firepower on the job though, I reckon."

Simon looked daggers at Mal, until Kaylee slapped him on the arm and said, "You got somethin' to say, doctor, out with it, 'stead'a just glarin'." Simon glanced guiltily at his lover, while Mal and River both turned to look at him.

"I'm not saying it's a bad gift," Simon hedged, buying himself a little time to find the right words. He paused, pressing an index finger to pursed lips, until River gave him an impatient gesture and an exasperated sigh. "But, Mal, two?" he blurted suddenly.

Twin bursts of laughter from giver and receiver broke the feeling of mounting tension as quickly as it had formed, and then the Captain looked back at Simon with an amused smile. "Yes, doctor, two. I don't reckon I want your sister kickin' my pi gu if I go'n get myself killed cuz she didn't have reliable hardware." Mal cast a wry glance sideways at River. "Apparently, I ain't very good at takin' care'a my own self." River and Zoë smiled at each other as Mal continued. "I reckon between my first mate and my new watchdog, I ain't never gonna see any action ever again."

"Oh, I'm sure you'll see plenty of 'action,' sir," Zoë said laughingly. "We'll just have to do our best to cover your fool self whenever you cause it."

"Hey!" Mal exclaimed to the collective laughter of the rest of the crew.


Later that evening, Mal stood on a catwalk above the cargo bay, watching River practice her martial arts routine with the beautifully crafted sword, the origins of which were still a mystery to him. The Captain heard the footsteps approaching from behind him, and recognized them as belonging to his first mate. He chose to ignore them as long as possible, however, in favor of keeping his eyes on the beautiful form of his graceful pilot leaping, slashing and twirling below.

"Sir, I'd like to talk to you," Zoë said in a low voice. Mal looked at her, finally, and nodded his acceptance He already knew what this was about, but she needed to speak her piece, and he planned to let her. "She ain't a Browncoat, sir. She may have been treated all manner'a wrong by the Alliance, and you may love her, but that don't make it any easier to see her wearin' that coat. She was just a little babe when we were out there fightin' and dyin' for somethin' her family and their kind wanted to destroy."

Mal seemed about to interrupt, but Zoë held a hand up to stop him. "I know people can change, sir, and the Tams seem to have done just that. Don't mean we should start handin' out brown vests to every person ever felt a bit of sympathy for us or helped us out a little bit. What I mean to say, sir," Zoë continued quickly when Mal opened his mouth again, "is that Jayne's been on this crew for years, now, and I never seen you offer him a pretty new coat. Why River? Why now?"

Mal wanted more than anything at that moment to convince his oldest friend of the rightness of his gesture. To that end, he took his time picking the right words to get his point across effectively. River continued her intensive workout below, seemingly oblivious to the discussion taking place above her.

"Why did we fight in that war, Zoë?" Mal finally asked.

"You doubtin' your old convictions, sir?" she asked him. When he merely continued to look at her, seemingly waiting for an honest answer, she continued. "We fought for an ideal, sir. We fought to throw off the yoke of Alliance oppression. We fought for our freedom, and the freedom of all the folk who were bein' forced into that zhengqi de goushi dui that is the Union of Allied Planets."

Zoë looked at the Captain expectantly then, waiting to discover why he had asked her that obvious question. "What do you think she's been doin' for the past four years of her life?" Mal asked calmly, waving an arm vaguely toward the floor of the bay. "You don't think she was fightin' to throw off that same yoke, when she was trapped in that gorram hell the Alliance trapped her in? You don't think she's been wishin' for the same freedom we wanted? I happen to know she holds that same ideal we fought for dear to her own heart. So just because she was too young to fight in our war, or was born on the wrong world or to the wrong family, does that mean she ain't like us? Does it mean she ain't good enough to share our beliefs and our colors?" Zoë's face remained as impassive as always, but Mal knew he'd won a victory. "Besides," he finished, "who's gonna carry on that precious ideal once we're gone, if we refuse to share it?"

Zoë laid a hand companionably on his shoulder, the corners of her mouth twitching slightly in what passed for an understanding smile. "Have a good night, sir," she said quietly. "You made a good choice." Mal watched his first mate walk away, heading to her bunk.


When Mal finally turned back to continue watching River exercise, he discovered she was gone. Bunching his brow in surprise, the Captain set out toward the bridge, hoping to find her so they could enjoy the quiet hours together.

Mal discovered the bridge empty, and assumed she'd gone to her quarters to clean up after her workout, so he made his security rounds and prepared for ship's night. Rechecking the bridge once more, to no effect, Mal decided to check her bunk in the passenger dorms. He'd spent more than a few nights in that room over the past couple months, he reflected pleasantly. Mayhap tonight would be another one.

River's room was empty, much to Mal's consternation. Scratching his head in thought, he made his way to his own bunk, disappointment slowing his steps the closer he got to his hatch. When finally the Captain made his way down into his quarters, he turned up the lights and froze. There was a half-naked woman standing in front of his bed.

Long, dark hair cascaded down over the brown fabric of her new duster. The coat was open down the front, parted to partially cover the alabaster skin of her small, perfect breasts. She stood, feet spread slightly in a challenging pose, with her hands on her hips. The tails of the coat were pushed behind her by those hands, which were resting against the new leather of her gun belt. Two pistols angled out from her sides, the pearl grips looking almost as natural against her naked thighs as if they were an extension of her own body. The rawhide thongs at the bottom of each holster were tied around her delicate looking, deceptively powerful legs. She looked prepared for a gunfight, clothes or no.

"Well, I reckon if I'm to be shot tonight, this is the best way to go about it," Mal said with a smile. "You do know those guns could make things a mite uncomfortable, don't you?"

"I've never worn anything more comfortable in my life," River responded huskily. "I want you to take me, Malcolm Reynolds, just as I am. Make these things I'm wearing for you truly a gift."

Pulling his suspenders off his shoulders as he moved forward, Mal said before kissing her, "I do believe this is the sexiest lingerie a woman has ever worn for me." Their lips met then, hard, and didn't part for more than a few gasping breaths for the rest of the night.

pi gu – butt

zhengqi de goushi dui – steaming crap pile