Part one
Summary: Mal and River can't figure out how they feel about each other. Some questions are raised that can't be answered easily.
Timeline: AU, BDM and "Those left behind" never occurred. Picks up sometime after "Objects in space."

(This fic starts out light, but with time it might become a bit more serious.)

Chapter 1- Is there?
A River "moment" brings about something interesting between the captain and his young reader.


The cargo bay was full of cargo. Cargo that was easy to hide behind if you wanted to be away from prying eyes. That's exactly where they were. His hands were on her hips and her hands were pressed against his neat vest, pressing him flush up against their hiding place.

"Are you…I mean…do you-"

She pressed a finger lightly to his mouth. "Stop bein' such a proper fella and have a lil' bit of fun!"

He smiled shyly and then kissed her again, completely unaware that his little sister was watching them.

She wasn't spying. She never spied. Just observed. This time it was an accident. She was just wandering around like she normally did and stumbled upon Simon and Kaylee. Everyone stumbled onto them since they got together. It made everyone just a mite uncomfortable.

"Ya done good today Vera," Jayne muttered to his gun on his way towards his bunk. He ran into River.

She smirked at him. He grumbled something along the lines of, "Ruttin' meddlin' moonbrain" and stalked off in the other direction. She shook her head and continued her trip around the ship.

She didn't know where she was going. She paused in the corridor to considered her options. The bridge to see the blonde pilot. No, he was busy fixing something. Her mind searched the ship quickly. Cargo bay, Simon and Kaylee. Jayne, helping the blonde. Zoe, in her bunk cleaning her gun. Shepherd, praying in his room. Inara, praying in her shuttle.

"They pray too much," River frowned.

"Who does what too much?" Mal asked from behind her. She spun around. He smiled at her warmly.

"Nothing Captain."

"What are you doin' wanderin' 'round here anyhow?"

"Not sure."

"Where are you off to?"

"Not sure."

"I'm goin' to the kitchen to get somethin' to eat. We'll be planet-side soon 'nough. Maybehaps that brother of yours will let you out for once."

He started to walk towards the kitchen. She stood her ground. He stopped and turned back towards her.

"I hear there's apples…"

She smiled. That was as close to an invitation as he'd get. He continued towards the kitchen and she followed.

She sat down at the table and grabbed one of the delicious apples they picked up planet-side. He got one and then scrounged around for something else. He paused, trying to remember where he saw it last.

"Have you seen Kaylee's engine wine?" he asked River hopefully.

She shook her head no.

"I'm cravin' it. I'm gonna go ask her."

He left for the engine room. She opened her mouth to tell him that she wasn't there, but he was already gone.

She sat alone, contemplating the 'verse in general. The data ran through her mind quickly with the numbers and variables. That was the problem. Too many variables. Nothing could be for certain. She was jolted from her equations when Jayne and Wash bounded into the room.

"Ain't ever had a slab of metal fight back 'fore," Jayne grunted.

"Yeah, but we fixed the hole in the wall! You should be proud of our accomplishment!" Wash exclaimed as he put a hand on the larger man's shoulder.

"Proud?" Jayne scoffed. "We lost us a possible smugglin' nook! The way I see it, less room to smuggle means less cargo to smuggle…" he counted on his fingers. "Yeah and that's less profits! How's it good to lose that ruttin' hole if we lose possible money?"

"Wow. Thanks for the amazing insight. You are so very wise. You're giving Buddha a run for his money!"


Wash noticed River. He raised a hand. "Hi River how-"

She screamed and stood up, knocking the chair over in the process.

"What did I say?" Wash asked no one in particular.

"Two by two…hands of blue…" she whispered while eyeing the new blue work gloves Jayne and Wash were wearing. She repeated the phrase again and again each time becoming louder and more hysterical.

"Ice cold…blowing wind chaffing…no one hears the screams over the howling…crystals on the ground…melting…dying…don't let it die…" River choked fearfully.

"I'm gonna go find Simon…" Wash announced as he took off for the infirmary.

Jayne grinned and approached the little thorn in his side. He held up his hands. "Do these gloves scare ya, little girly? Big bad man in blue gloves?"

"Jayne," Mal's voice thundered from the doorway.

"Mal I was just-"


"Gorram it," he hissed as he walked off. He could never win with Mal when he was in his "I'm the captain and I'll kill you for lookin' at me wrong" mood.

Mal cautiously approached River. She was huddled beside the couch muttering to herself. Simon was nowhere to be found and so was Kaylee. He didn't have to have half a brain to figure out that they were together.

"River…" he said calmly. She didn't look at him. Her eyes stayed fixed on something only she could see on the floor. She clutched her knees to her chest.

"Scar on my brain, never forget. Never heal. Bamboo beneath fingernails…"

He crouched in front of her so he'd be in her line of sight. He didn't know what he'd do if Simon didn't turn up soon.

Wash entered panting. "I can't find Simon."

Mal looked back at him and took a breath before returning his gaze to hers. "I guess that means you're gonna have to settle for me, little one."

She looked into his eyes with fear and tears behind her own.

"What's goin' on?" Zoe asked, standing beside her husband.

"Well…River…" Wash explained.

"Alone in a crowed room. People everywhere. No one hears. Invisible like smoke lost in the wind…gone…" she whispered.

"What set her off this time?" Zoe inquired.

"I did actually. Sorry about that," Wash called to River.

"Wash, not now," Mal snapped.

"What's going on?" Inara asked as she floated into the room like an angel.

Mal and River's gazes didn't waver. They were still locked on each other.

"River," Zoe explained.

"Screams everywhere…so much blood…" River murmured, only speaking to Mal.

"Simon?" Inara asked. Wash shrugged. "Kaylee?"

"Ain't around either," Mal said softly.

"I'm gonna go look for Simon…" Zoe decided as she left the room.

"Bird without wings…helpless…going nowhere…trapped…"

"Maybe I could-" Inara started. Mal shook his head. River's gaze deepened.

"Water down a stream. Nothing stops it. Keeps going and going and going…from everywhere…flowing and flowing…washing away everything…life draining with every drop…"

"Okay, just calm down. It's okay," he attempted as he lightly took her fragile little shoulders in his hands.

"Two by two, hands of blue…broke the dam, released the water…" she said frantically.

"They're gone now, sweetheart. Okay?" Mal asked. Everyone was confounded by the tenderness of his words, but nowhere near as confounded as he was.

River quieted down and took a steadying breath. She nodded, letting his words wash over her.

The rest of the room was watching in silence and awe. Simon darted in with Kaylee looking rather ruffled and Zoe following closely behind.

"River?" Simon wheezed as he sank beside Mal.

"I'm alright," she whispered while her eyes fell on Mal. He nodded to her and stood up, slowly letting his hands slip away from her.

Simon looked up at Mal with his mouth hanging open. Mal turned to Kaylee as if nothing had happened.

"Where's your engine wine?" he asked.

"In my bunk."

"Do you want me to get it or do you want to?"

"You can get it, Cap'in."


Mal simply walked out of the room. Inara decided to follow him while Simon helped River get on her feet.

"Mal," Inara called.

"What?" he asked while he opened the hatch to Kaylee's bunk.

"Why were you so good to River? Usually you can't stand her…moments…"

"Simon wasn't around."

"That's all?"

"Why? Do think there's more to it?"

"Is there?"

He chuckled dryly. "What would there be?"

"I don't know. It's just…never mind."

He shrugged it off and descended into Kaylee's bunk to retrieve the engine wine leaving Inara to contemplate. Just when she thought she had him figured out…