Mal and Jayne sit down with Fanty and Mingo. Mal desperately wants to close this deal and try to get in on a new one. Jobs had been getting harder and harder to come by lately and this recent job had almost gone pair shaped had it not been for River's vision of the Reavers just moments before they reach him and the crew.
Mal contemplated with a sort of morbid curiosity just what would have happened to himself and the others had she not warned them. Would they have completed the heist in time to get away? Were there any other signs they could have picked up on to detect the Reavers themselves? None that Mal could think of. And it was this fact that ate away at him because River and Simon had just decided to leave.
There would have been no way Mal would even be having this conversation with Fanty and Mingo right now were it not for her intervention. It seemed a damn shame really, he had been sheltering her and Simon mostly to his own detriment up until now. There were many honest, and not so honest jobs they had to pass on in the last eight months on a count of River, and now here she was just beginning to show some real promise with some skills that might actually allow the crew to compensate for the losses they had to endure.
But it wasn't just that. Mal couldn't help but feel as though he would miss River more then he had originally anticipated. He wasn't quite sure why it was eating at him so. "Wouldn't things be a lot smoother without her around?" He thought to himself, "wouldn't he finally be able to take up some of those milk runs closer to core without having to worry about alliance patrols as much?" Mal couldn't put his finger on it exactly but some how these thoughts weren't nearly as consoling as he had hoped they would be. Turning his mind to the work at hand Mal tried to focus on his conversation with Fanty and Mingo, perhaps he might try to track down the doctor and his sister later and see if he couldn't make amends, if nothing else at least Kaylee wouldn't be so mad at him anymore.
Turns out that Mal choose just the right moment to focus in again, as Mingo and Fanty tried to up their take.
"My muscular butt its 40," Jayne balked
"It is precious, as of now," Mingo shot back.
"Your unpredictable Mal, you run when you ought to fight, fight when you ought to deal, makes a business man a might twitchy."
Mal was ready to reach across the table and strangle both of them. He was so gorram tired of getting this speech from his contacts, it's like these low lifes had no greater pleasure in life then to try to knock him down a few more pegs every time he meet them.
Just as Mal was about to tell Fanty just what he could do with his advice he heard a commotion in the bar area behind him. It sound like a big fight was going on. Mal expected to turn around and see several patrons in heated exchange over cards or some such thing but was shocked to turn and see none other then River in cluster of people spinning and flipping herself and anyone else within her reach all around the room. Mal watched in confused awe as she dispatched several larger men in the blink of an eye.
"Hey a tussle," Jayne chimed in behind, trying to peak around Mal to get a closer look. Mal moved a fan near him back to give Jayne a clearer look.
"Jayne….." Mal murmured as he tried to motion toward the source of the ruckus. Once Jayne saw he was just as shocked as Mal, both men caught in an almost trance like state as they watched River spin and flip around the room taking out everyone in sight.
"Do you know that Girl?" Mingo asked as he and Fanty joined the other two men in astonishment.
Watching River eliminate two more patrons as they tried to escape up the stairs, Mal finally snapped back to the present. Motioning over to Jayne he tried to get Jayne to get a hold of her to stop her, mean while Mal attempted to make his way up the stairs where River had just been to try to retrieve his gun from the security station he had checked it at as he entered. Mal could tell by the efficiency with which River was taking out everyone else in the bar that Jayne may not be enough to stop her. He didn't fancy the idea of having to train his piece on River, but he didn't see any other option. He just prayed to whatever God was listening that he wouldn't have to fire.
River descended the staircase back down upon a terrified crowd of people as Mal tried to sneak back up the stairs behind her, as Mal reached to security station he shoved another man out of the way and began desperately searching his pockets for his box key.
Behind him he heard Jayne's momentary groan and then a large thud as he hit the ground. Mal knew she would be on him any second.
Finally he found his key and plunged it into the box. Below he could hear the last few people yelping in pain as River finished them off in rapid succession. Finally Mal threw the box open and ripped his gun out of the case just as River simultaneously trained a gun she grabbed off her last attacker on him.
They stood frozen in place looking at each other. For the first time since this ordeal began Mal could see her face, though her movements were rock steady Mal could tell by the look on her face that she was terrified. He could see that somewhere inside her there was a titanic struggle going on. As if some demonic entity had taken control over her body but left her mind in tact. She was fighting desperately to regain control. Something in her eyes was crying out to him for help. Mal wanted to help but he didn't know how.
"Plea…Plea…Please…Help…." She stuttered out.
"I'd like to very much darlin, but your going to need to put that gun down first," Mal answered back, trying to sound as calm as possible.
"Ca…can…can't…." She struggled to reply still focusing on trying to defeat some mental invader.
Mal lowered his weapon, putting his hands in a very defensive gesture he slowly tried to inch his way down to River. She stood frozen in place still training her gun on him as he slowly descended the stair case.
"River, I'm coming to you ok?" Mal said as he made his way towards her.
"Yo…you…you shouldn't….isn't safe…." She struggled out.
"I can see that, but I don't see as we got a whole lot of other options, just keep trying to get that gun down."
"Cap…Capt…Mal…Oh God….I….I….can't hold it…" Mal could tell that she loosing the internal fight.
"It ok River, I'm here, stay with me now darlin, I'm almost there," there was now a tinge of panic in Mal's voice not only was he worried about his own life but he could see that this thing in her head was coming close to destroying her as well.
"Just try starting small, try to get your finger off the trigger ok hun?" Mal intoned as gently as he could muster.
With a force of will that seemed to drain an immense amount of strength River slowly tugged at her trigger finger, mean while Mal continued to close in on her as quickly as he could. He was almost within arms reach.
Just as he was almost within range she was able to tear her finger away from the trigger and a moment later Mal gently reached over and took to gun out of her hand. Once he finally got the gun out of her hand, she collapsed into his chest. Mal rushed to grab her before she felt to the floor. He wrapped her in his arms and held her as she began to sob uncontrollably. Mal heard her mumbling out words that were completely unintelligible to him.
Mal tried to calm her as best he could, pulling her closer into himself and trying to reassure her. Surveying to body strewn about the bar Mal found Jayne slowly picking himself up off the floor, looking as though a ship had fallen on him. He shook his head out a few times and then glanced over at Mal and River. He gave Mal a confused look but Mal just waved him off. Then gently lifting River into his arms he whispered into her ear as she continued to cry.
"It's alright darlin, it alright, we're going home,"
Then motioning over Jayne they both started back up the stairs and out of the bar. Once they reached the top they were met by Simon who came tearing into the bar. Stopping front of Mal as he held River he shot Mal a very concerned and confused look.
Mal simply shook his head, "We'll talk about this when we're all back on board,"
Then as Mal moved forward Simon's view of the scene below became completely clear. Standing in disbelief for a few moments Simon took in the view before he quickly followed after Mal and Jayne.
Once back at the ship River refused to let go of Mal, her arms wrapped around him in a kind of vice grip that no amount of coxing from Simon could break. Mal sat down on the couch in the common area and let her continue to cling to him as he kept whispering things to her in an attempt to console her. The rest of the crew eventually came up to the sit around Mal, each with a look of intense concern on their faces.
Simon continued to try to get his Sister to come down to the infirmary so he could check for injuries.
"Don't think ya got to be too worried about her," Jayne said as he entered the room and grabbed something out of the freezer to place over his groin.
"She probly da only one who wasn't hurt in that fight…..well other then the Captain that is…" Jayne gave Mal a slightly jealous look.
"So what happened in there? Kaylee piped in.
"Do we know if anyone was killed?" Zoe asked.
Mal looked down at the still sobbing River in his arms, "It likely, I know she meant to kill me before….." Mal trailed off in thought for a moment, "Well before she didn't…."
"I don't think I understand," Kaylee questioned
Mal shifted uncomfortably in his seat for a moment. "Don't rightly know little Kaylee, all I know is she had a piece trained on me but was able to fight back the desire to fire it."
Mal looked over to Simon, "Care to shed any light on this?"
Simon pulled his gaze away from River who had so far rejected his attempts to even get near her, "I don't know, but judging from what you told me on the way back it sounds as though….as though she may have been triggered somehow."
"Triggered?" Zoe asked with an extremely concerned look.
"The people who helped me break River out had intel that all the academy subjects were being embedded with behavior conditioning, they taught me a safe word in case something happened."
"Safe word?" Zoe was now beginning to look a bit more irritated.
"It's a phrase that makes her fall asleep, though apparently it wasn't necessary." Simon motioned over to River still sitting on Mal's lap.
"Something? You care to elaborate on what that something might have been?" Mal said with a kind of cold anger.
Simon responded defensively, "They never told me, I never imagined it could have been anything like this."
Mal was fuming, eight months they had been on the ship, at any given time she could have done this on the ship and they never would have seen it coming.
Suddenly River spoke up, with her face still partially buried in Mal's chest, "He didn't know. Couldn't know. Broad wave trigger. Alliance High Military," She struggled out in between gulps of air.
"What's that moonbrain babbling about?" Jayne growled out.
"Hey!" Mal shot back, giving Jayne a withering look.
"Seems like she's talking about something she might have seen on the corex screens in the bar." Wash offered
"If that's the case we ought to go talk to Mr. Universe, he might be able to give us a little more to go on."
Mal thought on it a moment. "Sounds like a pretty good idea, Wash see if you can raise him on the coretex and while your up there on the bridge set a course for Haven, think its best we find a place to lay low for a bit while we sort this out."
Having said that Wash headed up to the bridge with Zoe following close behind. Kaylee made a comment about being excited to see Book again and wondered down to her bunk to get ready. Jayne muttered some moonbrain comment and wondered off.
Simon stayed for a few more minutes still concerned about his Sister. Finally Mal tried to get the doctor to easy off River and head down to his room, perhaps catch a little sleep.
"I don't want to leave her here like this, at the very least I should give her a smoother for the anxiety." Simon reached into his medical bag but River refused
"No! No more gorram needles and drugs!" she shouted, drawing herself even closer to Mal.
"Mei mei, its ok, the smoother will help….help calm you down."
"Calm me down! I just committed mass murder because an oaty bar commercial told me to! Should I really be calm right now!" Mal could feel her tensing up again so he intervened.
"Sounds like she's not interested just yet Doc, maybe you ought to clear out for a bit and let her get her bearings."
"But I…" Simon tried to protest but Mal simply held up his hand and motioned him to leave. Reluctantly Simon stood up and headed down to the infirmary, "Just promise me you'll get her down to the infirmary before we get to Haven, I'd at least like to do a quick visual examination to make sure she hasn't sustained any serious injury." Then Simon left Mal and River alone on the couch.
For the first few moments River simply sat holding on to Mal and tried to control her breathing, after some time had passed Mal began t lightly run his fingers through her hair, continuing to whisper comforting words to her. Eventually she began to breath normally, slightly loosing her hold on Mal enough to pull back and look up into his eyes.
They both sat there for a moment, transfixed in each other's stairs. Then Mal finally broke the silence.
"Why didn't you shoot me?"
"I…I… just couldn't, not you."
"You didn't seem to have any problem taking Jayne out," Mal gave her a slight smirk which a illicit a similar look from her.
"Didn't really want to hurt Jayne, not that much, but I couldn't find the strength to resist hurting him. Only for you."
"Is that so, why you spose that is?" Mal asked with a semi serious yet playful tone.
"Well I….I mean I…..can't really quantify that yet." River said, "I only know that if I could I would have ripped off that arm to keep it from firing," She said with a great deal more passion then she had originally intended.
"S'all right for now darlin' we'll talk on this more later, for now I think its best you get some rest while we're enroot to Haven."
Mal got up to head to the bridge but River held on to his wrist, "Please don't go, if I try to go back down to my room to sleep Simon will try to give me more medicine and smoothers." She pleaded
Mal thought for a moment, "Tell ya what, why don't we put you up in my bunk for the moment, I conjure that'll be the last place the Doc will think to look for you."
River gave him a slight smile, "Thank you."
"Don't mention it darlin."
With that Mal helped River down to his bunk and helped get her settled in his bed, before he left River called over to him, " You promise to keep Simon away?"
"Don't you worry bout him, I'll keep him off you at least till we get to Haven, but I doubt Simon will let you off the ship before going down to see him, just focus on getting some rest for the moment."
Seeming content with that answer, River settled in to rest. Mal stood for moment looking at her lying in his bed, unable to shake the feeling that it seemed right for her to be there. River gave him a lazy smile as she started to drift off to sleep, "I agree…" she said right before she slipped off.
Mal was somewhat taken a back by that, getting so caught up in his own internal turmoil that he had forgotten that she had probably been hearing all of it. Trying to keep himself form thinking on that too deep Mal turned to get to bridge to see if Wash had made contact with Mr. Universe and mumbled something to himself about Book's special hell.
As she heard him close the hatch above River settled into sleep, strangely comforted by her immediate surroundings, though he had left, Mal's unmistakable presence permeated every inch of the room, wrapping her cold mind in a kind of warm physic blanket. As she sleep started to weigh on her eyes River succumbed to the presence around her and for the first time since she had left that cryo box on Persephone, she got a deep, dreamless sleep.