AN: I was listening to my MP3 player at work & Freak on Leash came on and River popped into my head. Couldn't stop thinking about this for the rest of the day. Some musical influences here if you're interested. Korn's Freak on a Leash obviously. Minerva by Deftones, I always think of River when I hear that one. And some of River's dialogue near the end is lifted straight from Seven Mary Three's Each Little Mysteries.


Her flowing skirt floated in the air, carried on the breeze created as her body spun in intricate patterns. She danced to music that only she could hear. To choreography only she among the crew of the Serenity could hope to perfect. It was a dance of precision, of beauty, of grace. Of death. Or, that was how they intended the steps to be used.

River vaguely registered the Fruity Oaty Bars theme still playing in background of the back-world bar. In most places the commercial was no longer played, but every so often they would run across a place so out of touch with the rest of the 'verse they still played it. In these places River inevitably had a...bad day. And so did everyone in her vicinity.


Jayne stood behind Kaylee, his arms crossed and his expression stony. Ship parts were always cheaper with the scary man discount. This scrapper was an old guy though, and was clearly half in love with Kaylee's sunshiny personality already. He'd probably sell her half the yard for a kiss on the cheek. Jayne let his eyes wander. This was a small moon, hardly worth stopping on. If Mal had done a better job of planning their fueling points they wouldn't have had to stop at all. But their choices had come down to stopping or drifting in the black.

Jayne's eyes fell on a display of foil-wrapped snack bars and he swore. "Gorram it! Where's River?"

Kaylee spun with wide eyes. "Why? What's a'matter?"

Jayne shook his head, spinning around to head out of the shop. "I'm gonna miss the show!"

Once he was out of the scrapper's shop it wasn't hard to figure where the pilot had got to. There was a steady stream of people running toward the small saloon at the edge of town. Thankfully the townspeople weren't stupid enough to go into the bar. Unfortunately, Jayne could see Simon running for the building, and he had his med kit in hand. That hun dan doctor was going to say those ruttin' words then shoot her up with somethin'. River would be fuzzy for days after. She hated those gorram drugs.

Jayne took off running, at a pace to reach the building before the doc. He shouldered his way through the crowd and into the front door, ignoring the warnings about the crazed lunatic on a killing spree. He doubted she was killing anyone. It had been months since River had killed anyone during an Oaty Bars episode.

He had a few moments before Simon arrived to appreciate the view. She was breathtaking. Absolutely stunning. Jayne studied her moves, awed, as always, at the control she had over her body. As he watched, she spun her leg up to head level, easy as could be, kicking a man in the temple, knocking him out. Another man came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her, trapping her arms. A smile graced her lips as she met Jayne's eyes. She didn't appear troubled in the least by the man holding her. Her long dancer's leg came up again, graceful as could be, the heavy boot on the end slamming into the man's forehead. His grip loosened as he fell away. With a delighted laugh, she pirouetted away to find her next dancing partner.

Simon stumbled in next to Jayne. He opened his mouth and drew in a gulp of air, preparing to say those ruttin' words that would drop her. River's head jerked around, a small frown on her lips. She jerked her head to the side just in time to avoid a fist. Jayne frowned. The gorram doc was making her lose her focus. She was gonna get hurt 'cause of him. Before the doc could utter the first syllable of the gorram phrase, Jayne brought up his elbow, slamming it into Simon's windpipe.

Simon spluttered, leaning forward, clutching his throat.

"Won't be putting Riv to sleep no more, Doc," Jayne stated in a conversational tone, his eyes still focused on the girl and her movements. "Just watch. She's in control now."

Her body was relaxed again, her head back fully in her dance. She didn't have many partners left. Jayne could see the shift in her shoulders as she realized the same thing and the disappointment settled in, her dance was almost over. With a little grin he stepped onto the floor. It was time the girl had a partner who knew at least a few of the steps.


Simon dabbed the disinfectant on Jayne's lip, the disapproval on his face the only part of his bed-side manner that was not gentle. Jayne jerked away from the doctor. He didn't need all the doctoring. Just a few bruises and a scrape or two. He tilted his head toward the girl.

"You should check her out. Make sure none of those hun dans landed any blows."

Simon eagerly turned to his sister. He had tried to doctor her first but she had insisted that Jayne be the first patient. Stubborn moonbrain. She rolled her eyes in Jayne direction. He glared right back at her. If she didn't like his thoughts then maybe she should stay out of his gorram head!

Jayne slid off the table and made his way to the galley in search of a snack. He was still rifling through cabinets when River slipped past him and hopped up onto the counter next to him. She leaned her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands.

"Ge ge can't see that she is no longer a freak on a leash."

Jayne had been staring into a cabinet, shifting cans left and right without really seeing them. Slowly his hand lowered and he turned to her. "Uh…what?"

River met his gaze with a sad little smile. "Hands of blue, two by two. They took something from her, lost it. Put a leash on her." Her brow scrunched up. "And then ge ge took the leash and tried to walk the dog."

She looked away, the frown more evident on her face. Jayne worked through her words, trying to piece it together. He thought he might understand. "So, the phrase that puts you to sleep and the drugs and all that? That's the leash? The things that Simon uses to try to control you?"

She turned to him with a beaming smile. Jayne sucked in a startled breath. That was the ruttin' shiniest smile he'd ever seen. He'd glimpsed it before, when River played tag with Kaylee, or when Mal praised her for her piloting skills or for helping out on a job. But this was the first time it had been focused on him.

River reached out one tiny hand, putting it on his shoulder. Jayne's heart hammered in his chest as she used his body to steady her descent from the countertop. He knew she didn't need any help with her balance. The gorram girl walked along the railings for fun, with her eyes closed. She'd touched him for some other reason. His heart beat faster as he tried to figure out why she would want to touch him. Maybe even she didn't know.

She leaned in closer to him. "She knows why she touched him."

He frowned. "Stop reading my ruttin thoughts."

"She did not take from him. Just accepted what was thrust upon her."

Jayne slammed a hand over her mouth, frantically looking around to make sure no one had heard her before leaning in close to growl lowly at her. "Don't go saying that go se where someone can hear you. I haven't thrust nothin' of mine on you. You're gonna get me shoved out the airlock, Moonbrain!"

River opened her mouth and licked his hand with a giggle. Jayne jerked his hand away, wiping it on his pants with a grunt.

"What are you playin' at?"

Her smile softened and she reached out her small hand. Jayne stumbled back a step, half afraid she was about to pull something on him. She settled her hand on his chest. He tried to ignore the warm feeling of her small palm resting against his heart.

"Each little mystery is safe in your heart." She said earnestly, watching him, hoping he would understand.

Jayne scratched his head.

She rolled her eyes. "Need to have a little conversation." She patted his chest, like that would make her words make some kind of ruttin' sense. "Find the truth behind the questions that are haunting you."

Jayne scoffed. "Don't believe in ghosts."

"Ape-man is most irritating when intentionally obtuse." River decided that Jayne clearly would only understand the most direct of approaches.

With her free hand she grabbed the back of his neck and jerked his head down to her level, bringing his lips to her own. She kissed him gently, telling him with her body how she felt, since he would not understand her words.

When he pulled away, Jayne looked slightly dazed, but not unpleased. He stared down at her for a long moment, making up his mind how he felt about this development. She knew how he felt about it, but he didn't. He hadn't allowed himself to acknowledge how he felt. He always avoided thinking about it.

Finally, he grinned at her. "Well why didn't you just say so?"

River tilted her head back and laughed. Simon would be so upset. The girl was no longer on the leash. She had slipped from her collar.