A/N- I wouldn't call this a song fic, but the title is courtesy of the White Stripes.
This is my first attempt at writing a Mal/River pairing, please be kind.
Warning- This story does include rape, so if that bothers you I'd stop reading now.
"Gorram it River slow down!" Mal yelled when River kicked her horse into a gallop and sped away from him.
He could hear the small tinkling of her laughter floating back to him on the cold air as he nudged his horse to move faster. River turned back to look at him and laughed again.
"Hey darlin we ain't out here ta be playin around we're supposed ta be huntin remember?" Mal admonished but found that he couldn't keep the pleasure out of his voice.
It had been quite awhile since they'd been planet side for more than a few hours and while Mal loved the Black sometimes he craved open spaces and fresh air. Eurydice was a pretty moon and after finishing the drop that morning Mal had made the captainly decision to remain planet side for a few days. Once they'd decided to stay Mal had wanted to try his luck at hunting hoping that maybe he could bag a deer so they could stock the galley with fresh meat. Mal glanced around the landscape in appreciation; Eurydice was in the middle of its winter season and all around him the hillsides were blanketed in a thick carpet of snow.
The captain had been surprised when it was River who'd volunteered to go hunting with him. Mal had figured Jayne would be ecstatic with the prospect of getting to shoot something, but the merc had come down with a terrible cold the day before and the only thing he wanted was to stay in bed and whine. When Mal had asked the rest of the crew if anyone wanted to accompany him River had spoken up instantly. Simon had been less than thrilled with the prospect of River going out hunting and had objected loudly when she volunteered. River had calmly explained to Simon that because she was much more stable since Miranda and was also in charge of piloting their home now, she had the right to make her own decisions and if he didn't shut up she was going to knock him out and go anyway.
Mal hadn't been sure about bringing the young girl, but then it occurred to him that having a psychic who was dead on with a gun might not be such a bad thing while hunting. Plus as much as Mal hated to admit it he was immensely enjoying spending the day with the little reader. Ever since Miranda it had become possible to actually have a somewhat normal conversation with the girl and to Mal's surprise he was finding that he and River got along well. Mal even had to laugh a little as he watched River riding across the plain. Her horse was kicking up clouds of snow and River laughing with childlike glee.
"Come on slow poke! I thought you grew up on a ranch, can't you ride better than that?" River taunted as she looked back and gave him a wink.
Mal spurred his horse harder and they both rode flat out until they reached the beginning of the forest where they were intending to hunt. River reigned her horse in next to Mal's at the beginning of the tree line.
"So you gonna use those reader skills of yours and tell me where the deer are?" Mal asked as he tried to catch his breath.
"Can't read animals. At least I don't think I can, I've never really tried. I guess I can give it a shot." River said sounding intrigued.
They nudged their horses forward and moved at a slow pace through the trees. It became dark almost as soon as they entered the woods and when Mal glanced over his shoulder he realized that it was already getting on towards afternoon.
"Guess we better be hurrying this up, we musta rode almost ten miles from Serenity, don't wanna have ta ride back in the pitch dark." Mal commented in a low voice.
"Hopefully luck will be on our side." River replied.
The captain and the reader exchanged an amused glance and both broke up into laughter.
"Guess one thing we ain't known for on this crew is our over abundance of good luck." Mal snickered.
River began to laugh at his joke and then suddenly her face became pale and her amusement was replaced by a look of fear.
"Go!" She yelled as she kicked her horse and shot off through the trees.
Mal knew by now to trust River's word without hesitation; he kicked his horse as well and sped off behind her. Right about the time Mal was beginning to wonder if River had been wrong a bullet caught him in the shoulder and he was thrown from his horse. He hit the ground and felt the air burst from his lungs in one powerful whoosh. Mal looked up just in time to see River's horse take a bullet through the neck and slam to the ground. River flew through the air and Mal winced when he heard the loud smack of her head as she hit a tree.
Mal quickly pulled out his pistol while simultaneously putting a hand over the bleeding hole in his shoulder. He jumped to his feet and ran over to where River lay all the while scanning the trees for the source of the bullets. Just as he reached River he could make out the muffled sound of hoof beats on snow and knew that he was about to have company. Mal looked down at River's crumpled form and noticed a large pool of blood on the snow under her head.
The men who he'd heard coming arrived then, four of them all with pistols drawn and pointed at Mal.
"These woods is private property." The obvious leader of the group said to Mal gruffly.
"Ya know instead a shootin people ya could just post a sign." Mal quipped.
"Hey Larry this guy thinks he's a funny man or somethin." One of the men said to Larry the leader.
"Think ya might be right there Tom. Now what are we gonna do bout the fact that you seem ta be plannin on poachin on my land?" Larry asked looking pointedly at Mal.
"Didn't know it was yer land. Guy back in town said these woods were open fer huntin. But now that we do know how bout ya let me take my friend here and we'll get off yer land." Mal said hoping it would be as simple as that. The look on Larry's face let him know immediately it wouldn't be that simple.
"Tell ya what I'll be glad ta let ya leave, but that little lady is comin' home with me." Larry replied and leered at River.
"Don't think that's gonna happen for a number a reasons. One, she's hurt and needs a doctor, two ain't no way I'm leavin without her, three and most important trust me when this girl wakes up you don't wanna be kidnappin her. She'll kill ya fore ya can even think ta say please don't kill me." Mal said as he stepped in front of River's still form, blocking the men's view of her.
Larry looked at Mal with an expression that ranged somewhere between anger and confused amusement. Suddenly without warning the man to Mal's right swung his pistol around and slammed it into the back of Mal's head. He attempted to stay on his feet for about half a second but then blackness overcame him and he slumped to the ground.
It was dark when Mal woke up and he realized he'd been unconscious for over two hours at the very least. He sat up quickly then regretted the action when his head screamed in protest and his stomach lost its hold on the last thing he'd eaten. After he was finished being sick he looked around in hopes of seeing River, but wasn't surprised when he saw that she was gone, the only sign of her was the red puddle of blood now frozen on the snow.
Mal stood slowly and was relieved to see that his horse was still standing close by. He mounted up and reached into the pocket of his coat looking for the comm. unit he'd brought, but his heart sank when he realized the men had robbed him of everything including the comm. unit and his guns. Shaking with cold Mal spurred his horse forward and began to follow the hoof prints of the kidnappers deeper into the woods.
It began to snow soon after Mal began looking for River. It was a heavy wet snow that managed to soak him through even with the trees for cover. Before long Mal felt nearly frozen solid and was reminded of days during the war when he'd been stuck freezing in a trench. He knew that he had to hurry if he was going to continue following the trail of footprints before the falling snow covered them over.
Mal was surprised when he found himself praying again. He prayed that she hadn't died from the head wound, he prayed that she wasn't outside in this cold, and most of all he prayed that she'd had woken up and defended herself before any of the hun-dans who had her were able to hurt her. He knew exactly what those men wanted River for and the thought of the small girl being used like that filled him with a stabbing dread.
Just when he was beginning to give up the hope of finding her on his own Mal spotted the flickering light of a fire reflecting on the snow in front of him. He looked up suddenly and felt like his heart stopped beating at what he saw. Fifteen feet in front of him was a small hunting cabin the light pouring from the windows was what he had seen on the snow. The four horses of the men who had taken River were tied up in front of the cabin and there to his right was River. She was pressed up against a tree, her hands tied above her head with a leather cord, and she was completely naked. She was unconscious and hanging limply, Mal winced when he saw the blood running down her arms from her raw wrists. He dismounted and walked over to her holding his breath the whole way. He was convinced that she was dead, but found that her pulse was steady. He had seen worse beatings in his life, but the fact that she was naked and left out in the cold made it seem horrific in a way he couldn't even fathom. There didn't seem to be an inch of her that wasn't bloodied or bruised.
Moving as quietly as possible Mal cut the leather tie around her wrists and caught her before she could fall to the ground. He was shocked by how cold her skin felt against him, even through his coat and he didn't understand how she could possibly still be alive. He tapped River's face lightly to try and get her to wake up, but she showed no signs of coming to any time soon. Her face was marred by blood and bruises and her lips were blue with cold, Mal shuddered when he saw tears frozen on her cheeks and eyelashes. He struggled for a minute to remove his coat while holding River in his arms, but he was finally able to wrap her slight form tightly in his coat.
After making sure that River was completely wrapped in his duster Mal crouched down and crept to the window of the small cabin. He became nervous when he could only spot two of the four men inside, one was lying on a small cot near the fireplace and the other was on the floor curled in a ball, both seemed to be fast asleep. Mal swore under his breath and began to look around outside for the remaining two men. He noticed what appeared to be drag marks leading around the corner, following them he came upon the other two men on the opposite side of the cabin. Both men were dead; one's neck was obviously broken, the other Mal couldn't tell how he'd died exactly but he was covered in blood. He knew that River had killed the two men and he was immensely proud of his Little Albatross at that moment. Even with a head injury and being tied up she'd managed to kill two of the monsters who had hurt her so badly.
Mal crept back around to the front of the cabin, silently pulled the door open, and stepped inside. Neither man so much as twitched as Mal walked to the small table where he spied his pistols lying. Larry the leader of the group was sleeping on the cot and had obviously taken a beating from River. He smirked at the bruises and blood covering the man's face and then turned away from Larry, Mal was saving him for last. The other man had obviously been beaten as badly as Larry had been. Mal put the gun to the back of the unconscious man's head and pulled the trigger, regretting that the hun-dan had to die so easily. Larry jolted awake at the sound of the gunfire and looked around in alarm. His eyes grew wide with fright when he found himself staring into the barrel of Mal's gun.
"Please don't." He whimpered pathetically.
"You think sayin please is gonna keep me from killin you? After what you did to that little girl out there? You're just lucky I don't got the time to do to ya what ya really deserve. If that were the case me and you'd be here for days and you'd spend em all screamin." Mal said coldly as he stood over the cowering man.
Mal slammed the butt of his pistol across Larry's face and felt a small piece of satisfaction when he heard the crack of Larry's jaw breaking. Mal had never thought of himself as a man who enjoyed another person's pain, but when he thought about the battered condition of his crew member all he wanted to do was put this man in considerable agony. More than anything Mal desperately wanted to make this miserable piece of go-se feel every bit of pain he had inflicted on River, but he knew that he had to hurry and get River inside quickly. He put the pistol to Larry's forehead and watched the man's eyes fill with tears, but felt no regret when he pulled the trigger. Working as quickly as possible Mal pulled both of the bodies outside and around the back to join the two River had taken care of. Then as gently as possible Mal picked up River and carried her into the house.
He laid her on the bed and turned to the meager fire trying to build it up bigger knowing that he needed to warm River up as quickly as possible. From behind him Mal heard River give a sudden gentle sigh and he thought perhaps she was waking up. After a few seconds passed it occurred to him that he hadn't heard her breath in again. Feeling panic rising in his chest Mal turned to River hoping desperately to see her chest rise and fall, but she was completely still. Mal rushed to her and felt for a pulse this time he wasn't able to find one.
"River girl you don't go given up on me gorram it." He said as he began to perform CPR on her. He continued to push on her chest and breathe for her for over a minute with no results. Mal's heart was racing in panic and he could feel tears building behind his eyes.
"Damn it River you fought a whole room a Reavers and lived. I know you're stronger than this!" He screamed and slammed his hand down on the center of her chest. River suddenly let out a long cough and then sucked in a huge breath. She didn't regain consciousness but her heart was beating and she was breathing again. Mal fell over her still form and concentrated on breathing himself, trying desperately to calm the pounding of his heart.
He gave himself a minute to regain control and then forced himself up. He quickly added more wood to the fire and then turned to the bed. River was still breathing steadily but she didn't look like she'd warmed up much at all, her face was still white and her lips were still an alarming shade of blue. The small cot that she was lying on didn't have any blankets on it and the only thing Mal had to cover her with was his duster, but since it had been snowing the coat was soaking wet and wasn't doing much good.
Mal berated himself internally because he hadn't thought to strip Larry and the other fella before he'd dumped them outside; by now their clothes would be as wet and useless as his own. He only had to stop and debate for a second before he began to strip off his own clothes. As uncomfortable as he felt being undressed with River, he knew that body heat was one of the best ways to warm someone quickly. Once he had stripped down to his underwear he lay down on the cramped cot and pulled River to his chest. She was still so cold that Mal actually shivered once she was pressed against him, but to his relief she seemed to be warming up quickly against him. As he lay with her Mal tried not to think about how soft her skin felt, or how perfectly she fit against him, or the fact that her naked breasts were pressed up against his chest.
He lay for a few more minutes trying to absorb everything that had happened in the last few hours and trying to ignore the beautiful naked woman pressed tightly too him. Soon the stress mixed with the cold and blood loss from the bullet wound sent him into a dead sleep.
He jolted awake only an hour later fearful that River had stopped breathing again while he was out. He let out a shaky sigh of relief when he felt her breath against his chest. She was also much warmer than when he had fallen asleep. Mal sat up slowly and winced when the wound in his shoulder was pulled. He turned River onto her back and began to examine her various injuries trying to determine just how badly she was hurt.
The wound on the back of her head was not as bad as Mal feared it would be. She had a large bump and a cut, but Mal didn't think it was life threatening. Her face was black and blue with bruises, her bottom lip was split, and there was dried blood underneath her nose. The rest of her body had been similarly beaten and there were dark bruises around her neck where someone had tried to strangle her. Mal's anger rose to new heights when he noticed how few defensive wounds she had. Mal knew that the two men she had killed had died quickly without much fighting. This meant that most of her beating had taken place while she was still unconscious.
Mal found himself praying again as he examined the lower half of her body. He prayed that they hadn't been able to rape her before she'd fought back but the blood stains and bruises on her inner thighs confirmed his worst fear for her.
He thought back to his first experience; it had happened in a barn when he was sixteen. It had been fast and awkward but it had also been sweet and special because it was so new. River would never have that he realized. She wouldn't get to look back someday and remember her first time with fondness; it would always be something terrible that was done to her.
After he had determined that she didn't seem to be in any immediate danger Mal stood up stiffly from the cot and began searching for the comm. unit. The cabin was only one small room and it didn't take him long to find it on the floor near the table.
Tzao-gao! He thought when he discovered that the comm. unit had been crushed somehow and was useless. Mal hoped that Jayne's tracking skills would be good enough to find them, but this hope was dashed when he saw just how much it had snowed during the time he'd been asleep. There was at least two inches of fresh snow on the ground, it would be impossible to find their trail now. Mal knew that their only option was going to be riding back to Serenity, but he couldn't risk moving River while she was still unconscious.
Not knowing what else to do Mal returned to the cot and sat down. He had thought about putting his clothes back on, but they were still wet and while the cabin had warmed up some it wasn't warm enough to wear damp clothes in. His t-shirt had mostly dried and this he carefully put on River not wanting her to wake up naked after what had happened. He felt River shivering as he lowered himself down gently next to her and once again pulled her close to try and keep her as warm as possible.
She woke up a few hours later. Mal had expected her to wake up confused and frightened and although he hated to admit it even to himself, he had been afraid that she may kill him before she realized who it was. To Mal's surprise she woke up calmly and simply lay staring at him.
"Hey Little Albatross. I seen how ya took care a them two hun-dans outside, good job." He whispered wishing he knew something else to say, some magical thing that would make everything better.
"The others?" She asked in a hoarse voice.
"I shot em. Not that ya left me much to take out, both of em were bout half dead when I got here."
"He- they- they hurt me. Woke up and he was in me." River whispered like she was trying to make it real for herself.
Mal again wished to God he had the words to make this better, to say anything that could possibly take away the pain in her voice.
"I'm sorry I didn't get here faster, maybe if I had they wouldn't a had time to… Did any of the others get their chance or was it just Larry?" Mal asked uncomfortably.
"Larry was the only one. I woke up while he was doing it, they had me tied up, but I got him off. The others tried but I wouldn't let them. After I killed the second one Larry took me outside and tied me to the tree." She explained and Mal heard a slight quaver in her voice.
She had a look of pain on her face for a second and then just as quickly as it arrived it was gone and her face became a blank mask of indifference.
"Its gonna be alright Little Albatross." Mal said and kissed her on the forehead.
River gave him a slow sad smile and a single tear slipped down her cheek. "You really believe that Captain." She asked. Her voice seemed to waver between hope and doubt.
"You're one a the strongest people I ever met. Think a how much you been through and come out on top. If you could survive that you'll get through this I'm sure of it." Mal tried to assure her.
River didn't respond but she did grab onto him tighter and buried her face in his chest, he could feel her body shaking with silent sobs. He simply held her and hoped that it was giving her some sort of comfort.
After holding her until she fell asleep again Mal climbed from the cot and put on his now dry clothes. Mal glanced around trying to find where the men had put River's clothing, but didn't see them anywhere. He figured before she did anything else she would want to get clean so Mal set about filling the only pot in the room with snow and melting it until he had an entire pot full of warm water. Working carefully while she slept Mal cleaned the wound on her head and washed the blood from her hair.
Once her hair was clean he threw the bloody water out onto the snow and melted another pot of snow and began to clean her face, arms, and legs. Soon every part of her he felt comfortable touching was clean and he still wasn't sure what to do with himself. He knew they needed to get back to Serenity, but with the shock her body had gone through the night before Mal wanted to allow River to sleep more before forcing her onto a horse.
Mal stood up and began to pace the small cabin back and forth, as he paced he thought about what had happened the night before and felt his anger building once again. Every time he looked at River all he could think about were those men's filthy hands defiling and hurting her. He wished for what felt like the thousandth time that he had had more time with them, time to make them feel the pain that they had inflicted on River. A bullet to the brain was far too merciful a death for the likes of them, they had deserved pain and humiliation.
River suddenly moaned in her sleep and began to thrash around on the cot. Mal hurried to her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder.
"River bao-bei. It's ok I'm right here with ya. Just a bad dream, come on open up yer eyes." Mal soothed and gently shook her to wake her up.
This time she woke up the way Mal had expected. Her eyes opened wide and she flew from the bed and into the corner in one fluid motion. She stood with her back to the wall breathing heavily in a fighting stance. Mal knew enough to not come near her; she could easily kill him before he could even have a chance to defend himself.
"Hey River girl it's me. It's Mal. You were dreamin, that's it. Ain't no one here to hurt ya." Mal said soothingly.
River's eyes continued to scan the room quickly for a second and then her gazed locked on Mal's.
"Did I hurt you?" She asked in a scared whisper.
"Nah I'm fine darling don't be worryin bout me none. You ok?" He asked as he moved over and picked her up off the floor.
Holding her tightly in his arms brought back memories of the night before to Mal. He hated himself for thinking of how beautiful River was while she was going through something so horrible.
Without warning she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. The kiss was fast and hard their teeth clicking together as she pushed herself closer to him. Mal was lost in the sensation for a moment before he realized exactly who it was that he was kissing.
Mal pulled himself away from River and gently set her on the bed he then walked to the window and stared out at the snow.
"We can't be doin this. It ain't right. Specially with what just happened to ya." Mal told her all the while looking into the woods.
"I'm sorry." River muttered.
"Ain't nothin for ya to be sorry about. I shouldn't a been thinkin bout ya like that, probably put all kinds a confusing notions in yer head. Its my fault so don't ya be thinkin' you did anything wrong." Mal assured her, but still refused to look in her direction.
"You get some sleep I'm gonna go out and make sure them horses are fed." He said stiffly and walked out the door.
River cringed away from the emotions pouring off of Mal as he left the cabin. He was ashamed and angry at himself and pity and regret at what had happened to her. Suddenly behind all of the negative emotions he was feeling River could feel waves of desire coming from Mal. This was the feeling she clung to and wrapped around herself as she fell back to sleep.