Disclaimer: not mine, not for profit

Summary: Mal once called River "our witch"; the magic she's using now has nothing to do with her psychic powers

Notes: Written as a fic gift for whedonland


The man pointed his gun at Mal. "Figure you owe me."

Mal, trapped at the corner table of the bar (and by his own stupidity at taking such a seat), raised his hands. "That's another opinion."

There was the whine of electronics and then the barrel of a gun was pressed into the base of the man's neck.

"Of course that would be a third," Mal said. "Hey, little one. What kept you?"

"Winning at poker." River smiled, then leant in close to the man. "Don't even think on it again. You'll never reach your knife before I blow your brains over the table."

The man glowered at Mal, unable to turn and face River. "What are you, a mind-reader?"

"Yes. I'm his witch." River twisted the gun barrel sideways. "Now drop your weapon. Before you pee your pants even more."

Reluctantly the man dropped his gun and, with the speed of a cobra, River drew back her own weapon and smacked him across the head with it. He fell unconscious, bouncing off the table on his way to the sawdust covered floor.

"Nice timing," Mal said, gathering up the bag he'd been trying to trade, and getting to his feet. "If you'd been here earlier you'd have known he was about to try and rip me off, saved us all that trouble."

River shrugged and waited for Mal to lead the way back to the door. "Sometimes you take me for granted."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Mal grumbled as they exited into the hot, dry, air. "I rely on you, sure, but that's not the same thing."

"You could at least say thank you."

Mal glanced at her. "You know I was thinking it."

"That's not the same thing," River echoed.

They walked in silence for a while. As they drew near to Serenity, Mal sighed. "I'm sorry. Thank you. You are a valued member of my crew, and, as you pointed out, my witch."

River beamed and slipped one arm around his, snuggling close to his shoulder. "I'm magical."

"Yes," Mal said, uneasily, uncertain what this sudden affection foreboded.

"Simon and Kaylee are making magic in the engine room again," River informed him, apropos of nothing.

Mal winced. "Magic as a metaphor," he said. "Thank you for sparing me some detail this time. You know, everyone is aware you can read their minds, but it's not polite to eavesdrop on…private things. Even less polite to broadcast facts about such things."

"Magic, power, sex, witches, vampires," River chanted, still clutching Mal's arm. "Interrelated concepts. Life, death, power, rebellion. Le petit mort. It means –"

"I know," Mal said sharply. "I have learnt a few things from Inara."

River halted so suddenly that Mal was forced to stop too. "There are other ways I could be your witch." She struck a pose that made Mal think impure thoughts.

Mal shook his arm free. "No! Simon would…well, he'd hit me once, but then I'd be forced to defend myself and hurt him. And then he'd be looking at me all disapproving, like. It would be…irritating."

River tipped her head. "That's your main concern? My brother's disapproval?"

"You're so…young."

She shrugged. "I'm eighteen now. A woman. And more mature than most. Been through more than most. If I were a companion I'd be ready to take clients."

Mal gave her a quick look of disapproval at the mention of companions, then took a few steps towards the ship, suddenly halted. "There's no point denying I've not thought about it," he said softly. "But it would be wrong."

"Stop seeing me as a child." River reached out to touch his shoulder. "I just saved your life. Again." She let go, twirled around like a ballerina. She paused. "Could say I bewitched you," she offered, with a sly smile.

Mal hesitated as she leant closer. "Bewitched," he repeated.

Their lips met, very gently.

"Under my spell, now," River whispered.

"Have been for a while," Mal admitted.

The next kisses weren't so restrained.