"Do you wanna take over?" he asked. She smiled. He was trusting her with his ship. She had flown before, but only for a short while before he'd step in and took over. She nodded happily. He flipped a few switches and then pressed a button. She was in control. She loved the feeling she got when she was flying Serenity. Control. She didn't have control over anything else but that ship. Her ship. Her home. "Good job darlin'. You got natural talent." Her smile widened.
He looked at her profile. A smile suited her. She was so small. Her arms and legs were so thin. He watched her go from a confused girl to a semi-stable woman. It had been a little over four months since Wash and Book. Four months he had been flying with her at his side. She rarely spoke, but neither did he. Somehow it wasn't an empty silence. It felt…safe. Just him, his ship, and his copilot. He was trusting her with his ship more and more. At first he was afraid to let her fly. She had her mood swings…use to have her mood swings. Since the secret locked away in her mind was unleashed to everyone in the 'verse, she had gotten a lot better. She still had her moments of incoherent babbling and emotional breakdowns. Either way, she was on the mend. She hadn't had a full out break down in at least a month.
"I'm goin' to go get somethin' to drink. You want anything?" he asked. She shook her head without taking her eyes off of the stars. "I'll be right back."
He went into the galley and got a glass of water. The ship was so quiet. Things had definitely changed. Simon and Kaylee were an item, and pretty serious. He moved into her bunk permanently instead of their nightly rendezvous. Jayne was still Jayne. He spent most of his time working out in the cargo hold or in his bunk with his guns. Zoe wasn't the same. Who would be? Wash was the love of her life. A part of her died with him that day. She spent most of her time keeping busy by working on Serenity. She'd repaint something here or move cargo around there, anything to avoid thinking about the pain. Inara was still onboard. She moved into Simon's room since her shuttle was missing all of her Companion frills.
Things between them, Mal and Inara, were they way that had always been. The only time they spoke was when they were arguing about something. Yet she still hadn't left. She would make up excuses to stay. They didn't make any sense, but he'd always say the same thing. "Okay." He didn't want her to leave. No one did. She was a part of the family.
He set the empty glass down and then returned to the pilot's seat. "You wanna keep flyin' her or do you wanna switch?" he asked.
"Keep flying if you don't mind."
"Not at all." He leaned back in his chair. At first he was looking out at space, but all space looked the same to him. His eyes wandered, his gaze transfixed on River. She was such a mystery. She flew his ship with such grace. She did everything with grace. Even as he watched her breathe, her chest would rise and fall with a grace that he had never seen before. He watched her fingers glide over the controls flawlessly.
"Dinner," Inara's voice made him jump slightly.
"Right. Okay," he replied. She nodded and then walked away. He opened his mouth to say, "Dinner" but she cut across him.
It was weird how she could do that. She would freak Mal out sometimes. He knew that she was a reader, but it still scared him when she knew things. Her mind intrigued him. He wondered how it worked. Sometimes when she looked at him or looked out at space, she got this look in her eye…like the wheels were turning. He wondered what she thought about. Even if he could hear what she was thinking, he probably wouldn't understand it. Maybe she thought in code or in algebraic expressions. She was so smart…brighter than the brightest star in all of the 'verse.
She put it on autopilot and then they joined everyone at the table. Simon sat with Kaylee, Zoe sat beside Inara and Inara sat beside Jayne, and Mal and River sat across from each other. Simon's arm was around Kaylee, like it almost always was. Their public displays of affection were not only nauseating, but hurtful to Zoe. Dinner wasn't as fun without Wash and Book. They still had some fun, but not as much. They finished eating and started clearing away the table.
"Simon! I got to fly
the ship again!"
"That's great! You'll have to tell me about it sometime," he patted her on the back and then took Kaylee's hand. They walked away talking and laughing.
River loved Kaylee, but ever since she started going out with Simon things had changed. Simon barely had time for her anymore. He was always off somewhere with Kaylee or in his lab. He wasn't there when she was upset. She felt alone. Not completely alone. When she was in the cockpit with Mal, everything was okay. She couldn't describe it. Even though they didn't really talk, it was just…safe. It was just her, her ship, and her captain…her amazing captain.
She returned to the helm with Mal. They went back to their usual routine. Mal would fly while she sat in the copilot's seat watching him. She learned a lot from watching him. She brought her knees close to her chest, setting her chin on them. She stared at him as he worked. There was nothing else to look at. She really didn't mind looking at him either. Every time she did, her heart went into overdrive.
"It's gettin' late," Mal began. He was thinking that River should go to bed while he continued to fly. It wasn't that he minded her company—oh no it was the opposite. He loved his little Albatross' presence. It made the ship a little less lonely. He wanted her to get her rest.
"No I'm not going to bed. You aren't. Why should I?" There she goes, reading his thoughts again. He hated how she did that.
"You should be gettin' your rest."
"So should you."
"I'm not tired."
"Neither am I."
"I still think that you should go to-"
"I will when you do."
There was a pause.
"You ain't gonna go are you?"
"When you do."
"I can't win with you can I?"
"It's very improbable."
"Fine. You win darlin'."
He put it on autopilot and rose from the pilot's seat.
She watched him walk away and then vanish into his bunk. He didn't know that she rarely slept at night. She still had the nightmares, which lately had taken on other topics. Simon used to be there at night, but now he was busy with Kaylee. She didn't like crying in her room for fear of Inara hearing her. Inara was a good person, but she didn't really understand. So, River would come back to the cockpit and hide behind the large control station and she'd cry. When she finished crying she'd go back to her room as if the night had never happened. That night would be different. That night would change everything.