12) I Have My Role In This

Riddick walked onto the bridge as Jayne was demanding that Wash dodge the Reavers. "Ain't that easy Cobh," He observed.

"If everyone could just be quiet for a moment..." Wash's voice was incredibly calm. Riddick nearly smiled at the scent coming off the man, like leaves and oak trees in the summer. A warm breeze. This man was incredibly gifted as a pilot. River had been right, but when wasn't she. "I need Kaylee in the engine room please." He said after a moment of silence.

"Can she even-" Zoe frowned and was interrupted by her captain talking to Jayne.

"Get her in there. Now." Jayne took off at a run.

Inara entered the bridge and Riddick heard Mal telling her to get the civilians into the shuttle and ready to go. He waited until the two of them had their moment and Inara had gone before he spoke. "River an' me are stayin'," He said quietly.

"Don't recall invitin' ya," Mal pointed out.

Riddick took his eyes off the window and cortex screen for a half minute to spear Mal with a silver gaze. "I ain't as good a pilot as yours, but I am a damn good co-pilot. He might not need my help but when it comes time to pull a fast one on those things I'll be handy to have." He turned his gaze back to the screens, "An' River won't leave. She'll knock your Companion, her brother and the shepherd unconscious before she'll leave me to Reavers. She'll be with Kaylee in the engine room. She'll be able to help."

"And if we get boarded?" Zoe asked quietly.

"Then she and I are the best chance you got of survivin'," Riddick's voice was flat. "Reavers ain't anythin' we ain't faced together before."

"That's for later," River's soft voice said from behind Mal. "Knew you wouldn't believe him," She said in explanation for her presence. "He's right. I won't leave him. I'll die with him fighting before I'll leave his side." She slid between Mal and Zoe to slide a hand over Riddick's shoulder, press a kiss to his cheek and then retreated, "I'll be with Kaylee in the engine room. Shepherd Book is already there."

Zoe watched her go and shook her head, "She's that calm she ain't really all there."

Mal ignored that for the moment, standing behind Wash, "How we doin'?"

Wash's answer was typical of the man Riddick was beginning to know, "I don't mean to alarm anybody... but I think... we're being followed." He spared a glance at Riddick, "Can you follow what I'm doing without getting in the way?"

Riddick took the co-pilot's seat and nodded. "Light hand when you're steering, hard when you're bankin', heavy when you want a sharp turn," He smiled slightly. "This ain't my first rodeo."

Wash's answering grin was like the sun, "Good to know." He hit the switch for the comm, "Kaylee, how we doing?"

River patted Jayne's arm as he set Kaylee down and gave the big man a smile, "She'll be fine." She reassured the gun hand. On the overhead Wash's voice was asking them about status. "Gonna need a little push here."

"You want me to go for full burn?" Kaylee asked, her voice a little weak but otherwise cheery.

River listened as Wash's voice spoke overhead, "Not just yet, but set it up." She looked at Kaylee and listened the sunshine and cheerful music in the girl's head, filled with living ships and joyful machines that functioned as they should without people hurting them or breaking them.

Kaylee was talking to Book, "You know where the press regulator is?" When Book looked around and then pointed to a part of the engine Kaylee smiled, "Head of the class."

Riddick concentrated on matching Wash's movements as precisely as possible. He was learning more about the man from his flying that he would in conversation with him. Kaylee's voice called through the comm, "We're ready for full burn on your mark."

Zoe sounded concerned but Riddick couldn't be bothered to worry about it, "Full burn in atmo? That won't cause a blowback? Burn us out?"

Mal seemed less concerned, from the tone of his voice he was already thinking of a way out, "Even if it doesn't, they can push just as hard, keep right on us." He paused, plainly deciding on a course of action, "Wash, you gotta give me an Ivan."

Wash nodded as if Mal had just requested pancakes for breakfast, "I'll see what I can do." Riddick hit the button to open the com and Wash shot him a grin in thanks, "Kaylee, how would you feel about pulling a Crazy Ivan?"

River watched as Kaylee grinned weakly in response to Wash's question, "Always wanted to try one. Jayne. Open the port jet control. Cut the hydraulics."

Jayne looked around, plainly confused, "Where the hell is-"

River took the big man's arm and guided him as Kaylee said, "Look. Look! Look where I'm pointing." Jayne opened a panel near the floor and Kaylee smiled, her fingers flexing in anticipation, "Okay. Now it's real simple."

Jayne and River looked at the tangled mess of wires and River could hear the thought from Jayne that Kaylee and he had different definitions of simple. "It's all right Jayne," River nodded, "I know what she wants. Just need your strength to help me do it." She began to sort through the wires, showing him what needed to be done.

Riddick wished the backseat drivers would be a little quieter in their comments, as Zoe observed the Reavers grappling hook warming up. "They're on us," The first mate reported.

Wash spoke into the com, "Kaylee...?"

Riddick concentrated on mimicking Wash, ignoring the extremely tense duo behind him, Mal muttering "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon..."

Kaylee's voice sounded almost as good as River's when she called through the com that they were ready. Wash sent Riddick a grin and called back, "Everybody hold on to something," His voice softened as he spoke to his opponent, "Here's something you can't do..." Riddick held the wheel steady as Wash slammed down a lever, spinning Serenity into a perfect one eighty, reversing their trajectory so they were headed straight for the Reaver ship which dodged at the last second. Wash hit the com again and shouted down to Kaylee, "NOW!"

River held Kaylee steady while Book hit a button and Jayne used all his strength to pull on an overhead lever. The engine glowed bright as a star turning faster and faster. She could hear the explosion of the atmosphere around them, full burn roaring like a lion as they headed towards the black.

Wash pulled up at the controls and Riddick matched him, both of them fighting the atmosphere with all their might until they hit the black. Finally they were done, and Wash eased off the controls. Riddick nodded his satisfaction and shot a grin at the pilot, "So when can we do that again?"

Wash chuckled and looked back at his captain and his wife, the whooping and hollering of Jayne in the engine room was audible even on the bridge. Mal and Zoe had almost identical expressions of amazement on their faces. Finally Mal spoke, his voice still a bit awed, "Knew I hired you for somethin'."

Zoe leaned over the back of Wash's chair, "Ain't no way we they can come around in time to follow us now."

Mal pulled the com talkie down and spoke into it. "We're good, people. We're out of the woods." There was more whooping from the engine room and Riddick grinned.

Wash checked a gauge and looked up at Mal, "We should have just enough left in us to hit a fuel station. We'll need to do some patching up. I hope we got paid today."

"We did," Mal nodded.

Zoe looked at her husband, "Sir? I'd like you to take the helm, please. I need this man to tear all my clothes off."

Mal smiled and spread his hand toward the door as Wash climbed out of the chair and followed his wife, his voice drifted back to Riddick, "Work, work, work..."

Riddick chuckled and watched as Mal threw himself into the pilot's seat but didn't take the controls, just sat and watched Riddick calmly flying. "Wouldn't have taken you for someone who can follow another's lead, 'specially someone you could break in two."

Riddick glanced at him and checked his instruments, double-checked the autopilot and sat back in his chair, "You don't know me Cap'n Reynolds." He shrugged, "You might think you do, but there's only one person in the 'Verse truly knows me, an' you ain't her. Though Cobh's a close second." He paused a moment, picking up one of Wash's dinos and smiling slightly over it. Now that they were in the black he didn't need his goggles, sliding them up so Mal could see his eyes. "I can pilot your shuttles, an' after I watch Wash long enough I'll be able to pilot the boat, but I ain't..." He shook his head, "That man is gifted at flyin' the way Simon is gifted as a surgeon. I might could match him skill for skill technically after I learnt enough, but I won't ever have his...panache or creativity."

"Still comes as a surprise," Mal prodded.

"Why? 'Cause I could snap him in half?" Riddick shrugged, "I could kill him but it wouldn't buy me his gift. Fact is I could kill every man and woman on this boat without breakin' a sweat, except River. That don't make me a better man, just makes me skilled." He shook his head as River came onto the bridge and sat in his lap. "Like I told you b'fore Cap'n, I don't worry 'bout my image, my rep, haven't for a long time. I know what I can do. I don't gotta prove it to anyone."

"You ain't as much like Jayne as I thought then," The captain was looking at River and talking to Riddick. "That man don't let a quip go unanswered."

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts," River said softly, "Jayne Cobb plays his part just as you do Captain."

"My ears are burnin'," Jayne walked onto the bridge and looked out at the stars. "There ya are," He said to River, "Thanks for the help earlier."

River nodded, "My pleasure," She smiled.

"What was that?" Mal looked at the three people exchanging smiles.

"Weren't for Rick an' River here, the meet woulda gone a lot less smooth," Jayne sat in the remaining chair, stretching his legs out with a sigh. "Rick come out an' kept me from gettin' shot in the back. Out flanked someone keepin' an eye on the snipers." He rubbed his chin, "He also grabbed one a the rifles an' took up arms, shot quite a few a them as were tryin' to kill you an' Zoe. An' River, when I brought the mule back, she suggested maybe a coupla flash bangs buried in the dirt would be helpful to ya'll when Patience made her move."

"Thought I said everybody should stay on the boat," Mal wasn't irritated but he wasn't thrilled either.

"River stayed," Riddick pointed out. "I never said I would. Never agreed to follow your orders Cap'n."

"An' if he hadn't come along? I'd be dead an' so'd you an' Zoe," Jayne said bluntly. He looked at River and then Riddick, "That bein' said, lawman was goin' on 'bout how they'd never stop lookin' for her." He aimed a light sneer in Riddick's direction, "Guess you ain't so valuable to them, or ya scared 'em so much they don' wancha back."

"Yeah," Mal frowned. "Funny how the lawman got out of his room. You having tied him up so well and all."

Jayne shook his head, "I didn't have nothing to do with that. Anyway it all turned out just fine. Buzzards're the only ones gonna find him..."

Riddick had to admit, the captain might be a fool, but he wasn't stupid. Mal stared right at Jayne, "But he did try to make a deal with you, right?" Jayne didn't speak, just looked out at the stars. "How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?"

Jayne turned his chair slightly, and winked at Riddick so Mal wouldn't see, "Money wasn't good enough."

"What happens when it is?" Mal wanted to know.

Jayne smiled and stood up, "Well... that'll be an interesting day."

Mal nodded thoughtfully, "Imagine it will."

Riddick watched as Jayne left, and said nothing to contradict his old friend. If it suited Cobh to be thought a heartless mercenary thug he wouldn't interfere with that. On the other hand he wasn't going to treat his old friend like he was dirt either.

Simon entered the bridge as Jayne left it, his eyes seeking River's first and then lighting on Mal's bloody arm. "You need me to look at that?"

"Just a graze," Mal shook his head.

Simon slanted a glance at Riddick and River and visibly steeled himself, "So, where do you plan on dumping us?"

Mal spoke slowly, looking at the instrument panel at first. "There's places you might be safe. You want the truth, though, you're probably safer on the move." He turned and looked at Simon, "And we never stop moving."

Simon frowned, "I'm confused. No wait, I, I think maybe you're confused."

Mal folded his arms and spoke steadily, "It may have become apparent to you that the ship could use a medic. You ain't weak. I don't know how bright you are, top three percent, but you ain't weak and that's not nothing. You live by my rule, you keep your sister from doing anything crazy, you could maybe find a place here. 'Til you find better."

"I appreciate the offer," Simon's voice was quiet but steady. "But I can't accept. Or I won't accept unless Riddick can find a place here as well. My sister...isn't crazy per se. She's traumatized and unstable but she isn't mad. And she cares about him. He is...undoubtedly dangerous but he cares for her as much as I do. I...much as it tempts me to keep River away from him, I can't divide them. I can't think of a crueler thing to do to them both."

"I appreciate it Doc," Riddick's voice sandpaper voice was rough, "But if he don' want me, I cain't force him to have me." He looked at Mal, "You don't want a co-pilot an' extra gun hand that's fine. I'll pay a fare. I know how ta find work."

"Never said I wouldn't hire you, never said I would," Mal pointed out. "It's plain you're useful." He frowned thoughtfully, "I hire you on, you'd get a bunk and a share just like Jayne. But my rule about shipboard romances stands. She ain't eighteen you don't spend time in a locked room with her. I know that seems highhanded, but that's the way it is. This is my boat and that makes me responsible for what happens on it."

Riddick tilted his head, "Well neither one a us sleep 'thout the other."

Simon nodded, "We spent some time on another ship and I can vouch for the truth of that. The one time I insisted, River woke up screaming. And Rick never slept."

Mal sighed, "Ain't anything ever easy?" He rolled his eyes heavenward. "Fine, but you don't shut the door to your bunk then. You wanna sleep with this girl, an' I mean only sleep, you keep the hatch open."

Riddick tilted his head at River, "Ain't just my decision," He reminded her.

River tilted her head, "Would like some time to court in privacy," She said softly. "But I think it is a fair deal. Provided I can join the crew if I prove...stable."

"Ya'll can work courtin' out 'mongst yourselves," Mal shook his head. "As for crew, what can you do?"

River smiled, "Good at husking," She said quietly using the rim term for hacking a cortex. "Martial artist, good with guns, knives and swords. Good at science and math."

Mal frowned, "Dunno if I need a full time crew member for that, but could have ya on a consultin' basis. See how much we'd need you. Maybe make you full time iffen it seems to be workin' out."

"Then we got a deal," Riddick nodded.

The doctor hesitated, and finally spoke, "I'm trying to put this as delicately as I can... How do I know you won't kill me in my sleep?"

"You don't know me, son. So let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me, and you'll be armed," Mal said quietly and slanted a glance at Riddick, "That goes for you too and I expect the same courtesy."

Simon half smiled, "Are you always this sentimental?"

"Had a good day," Mal had a half smile on his face.

"You had the Alliance on you, criminals and savages..." Simon enumerated the ways in which the day had gone wrong, "Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded including yourself, and you're harboring known fugitives."

Mal looked out the window at the black sky, "We're still flying."

Simon shook his head, "That's not much."

Mal's voice was soft, almost as if he was talking to himself. Riddick wrapped his arms around River so his cheek pressed to hers and turned the chair so she could look at the black too. Her voice echoed Mal's, "It's enough."

Riddick watched as Simon left and turned back to River, "I'm thinkin' we oughta talk to Miss Inara," He suggested.

"'Nara don't service crew," Mal said absently.

"Ain't wantin' service," Riddick replied shortly. "Think I'd want a..." He bit off the rude word, "Even a woman as beautiful as Inara," He looked at River. "No, I have what I want. Don't want Inara for me. Want her for River."

"Uh, dunno if Inara will go for that or not," Mal shrugged. "River ain't crew officially, it'd be up to Inara." He tilted his head, "You don't seem the sort to share."

"I ain't," Riddick rolled his eyes. "But I ain't talkin' 'bout this with you. Ain't your business anyway."

"I don't mind Richard," River laid her palm against his cheek. "You can tell him. He should know anyway." Riddick's growl vibrated through his chest and River poked him, "I know you think its private, and it is, but he won't say anything. He saw...in the war, so he knows."

Mal was looking mystified during this little speech and Riddick sighed, "Fine. We just ain't even told her brother. Didn't wanna lay that on him along with everything else."

Mal nodded his understanding, "Got my word I won't speak of it to him or anyone else lessen it becomes somethin' that effects my crew or boat."

"River has a hard time talkin' 'bout it," Riddick said quietly, his dark coffee voice pained in a way Mal hadn't ever heard a man's. "She told me," He kissed River's temple, "I thought she was a virgin, was givin' her an argument 'bout not bein' good 'nough for her, an' she," His voice caught and he took a deep breath. "She told me she wasn't. They," He kissed River's temple and cheek and hair visibly trying to control his rage at the thought.

River kissed his cheek and turned to look at Mal, "I resisted the training at first," She explained. "The first time I deliberately failed a test...they raped me. It wasn't a man, they didn't want to contaminate their experiment. But they raped me." She kissed Riddick's cheek and lips softly, "Richard is the only man who has ever touched me. But between the rape and the torture...I am...unready for intimacy."

"Wanna talk to Miss Inara about therapy for River," Riddick had managed to get his fury back under control enough to speak. "I had really tried to convince myself that they hadn't done that to River, that maybe they were too high minded to-" He shook his head. "Last piece of naïveté left in me."

"She said you're the only man to touch her," Mal frowned. "What did she mean? I'm guessin' you two ain't had much time alone."

"No," Riddick shook his head. "We had about a quarter of an hour once, thought we were gonna die on that godforsaken planet, an' we," He sighed and looked at River not wanting to discuss something so private with another man.

"My láng does not wish to be rude, our animals wish to keep such things private," River explained quietly. "We kissed, passionately, my first kisses with Richard were when he was in chains and could not touch me. But for a little while we were alone, and he could hold me, could kiss me. And I could kiss him. It was the first time I'd felt passion..." She smiled at her partner, her mate. "I knew I loved him, knew he was my best friend, I could trust him with my life. But I'd never felt like that before, as if his hands on me were the only way the hunger could be satisfied."

"But it was 'cause you thought you were gonna die," Mal nodded. "An' when you're safe, that's hard to recapture."

"Not so much as you'd think," River shook her head, blushing a little. "I love kissing my Richard." She smiled at her man. "He's so gentle with me. I know he's afraid of scaring me. And I'm afraid of...well everything. Except for that first time, fear comes along with...passion. I don't want my time with Richard to be tainted by anything."

Mal nodded, "I think I'd better go with ya'll an' talk to Inara, let her know that crew or not, you're both gonna need some help." He looked at Riddick. "I know you think you're fine, but protective as you are a her? You're gonna take that to extremes if you don't get some way a dealin' with it."

He checked the autopilot and strode out the bridge, leading them to Inara's shuttle. He was about to walk in when River grabbed his arm. "When asking favors it is better to begin politely," She said and stepped in front of him to knock on the door.

It took a moment but Inara opened the door to her shuttle in surprise, "River, and...Rick and Mal." She didn't quite frown but she was obviously puzzled.

River bowed politely, "Please, may we come in? We have something to discuss."

"Be welcome," Inara stepped back and gestured in welcome. "Would you like some tea?"

"Please," Riddick nodded gratefully and took a seat on the couch, River sitting beside him. Mal sat in one of the chairs opposite Inara, visibly uncomfortable in the elegant space. Riddick waited politely through the slightly ceremonial brewing and pouring of the tea and when given his cup waited for River to have hers before he lifted it to his face to inhale.

He was aware of a spurt of surprise from Inara when he didn't immediately dump sugar into his tea or gulp it down. "Hot tea ain't somethin' River an' I got regular," He gave the companion a slight smile. "She taught me how to do a tea ceremony. I liked it, made tea last longer, always liked smellin' it anyway. An' there's somethin' zen 'bout tea ceremony."

Inara's face was a study in masked shock at such an elegant sentiment coming from the escaped convict. "I'm glad you enjoy it, few men truly do." She sent an unreadable glance at Mal, "It is a pleasure to see you, but I'm certain you didn't seek me out just for tea."

"No," Riddick shook his head. "Dunno if you caught it when Simon an' River an' me were tellin' ya'll bout how we got here," He looked at River, "But River was tortured. An' she were raped, not by a man, but all the same, she's violated."

"And you and she are beginning a relationship," Inara said slowly, "Or building on the relationship you already have."

River nodded, "Richard makes me feel...wonderful," She offered quietly. "But along with everything else, I'm afraid. I don't want to be. I know he would never hurt me. He'd slit his own throat before he'd hurt me. But I..."

"But the fear is always there," Inara nodded her understanding. "I assume you told Mal this or he wouldn't be so calm right now."

"Just a few minutes ago," Mal nodded his hands tight around his tea cup. "Riddick is crew now. An' River's gonna be a kinda consultant for us on what jobs it's applicable to." He looked at the companion steadily. "I know you don't service crew. But I'm hopin' you'll make an exception for these two."

The companion seemed nonplussed, her gaze went from Mal to Riddick to River and back again, "Perhaps you could explain what it is you'd need?"

"Richard thought you could talk with me," River said quietly. "I think it's a good idea, because Companions are trained as healers of spirit among other things." She took Riddick's hand in hers as he set down his cup. "Mal made the point that Richard should also speak with you because he is so protective of me, and that could become unhealthy as well."

"Miss Inara, ain't askin' that you...do anything you don't want," Riddick said quietly. "Know its guild law that Companions choose their clients. But the only other person on this boat with any trainin' is Simon an' River an' I...we can't talk 'bout this to Simon. Shepherd Book, prolly is a good man, but he's a shepherd. This ain't exactly his forte."

"No," Inara smiled. "First I would like to talk to you both privately." She looked at Mal, "You've thrown your weight in on their side which is why you came. But you shouldn't hear the next part I think. I can promise to do my best for them."

Mal nodded and pushed himself up from the chair. "When ya'll are done here, come by the bridge or find Jayne, tell him to show ya the empty bunk." He told Riddick.

Inara looked at the two of them thoughtfully, "Anything we discuss in this shuttle, or elsewhere regarding this situation or your history will remain confidential. I will not repeat anything we discuss to the crew or any other person. I'm going to ask you some questions that you'll undoubtedly find intrusive. These are not meant to be titillating or for any prurient interest, but they will tell me a great deal about the two of you." She rose and retrieved a book from a drawer and opened it to a blank page. "First please tell me your ages."

"Don't know exactly," Riddick frowned in thought. "I'm about twenty five."

"And I'm three months past seventeen," River said quietly.

"So about eight years between the two of you," Inara wrote the information down. "That's actually a nice gap, usually the male is a bit more experienced and with such a young lady that's important." She looked at the two of them, "These questions will give me an idea of how the two of you see sex, and the value you place on it. I know it might seem embarrassing but honest answers will truly help me to help you."

Riddick looked at her, "I don' hide anything from River, I can't." He said quietly.

"And I don't conceal things from Richard," River's voice was soft. "You must understand Miss Inara, we lived in close quarters for nearly two years. He knows when I'm in pain, when my menses are due, he's seen me ill, and injured, he holds me at night, he knows when I have nightmares."

"There ain't a thought or feeling I've had since I met River that she ain't known about," Riddick explained, "She knows everything about me. She's seen me piss for gods sake. She's seen me helpless an' beaten. We trust each other."

"All right then," Inara nodded. "That's rare; trust is usually the hardest achievement for a couple." She made a note or two and smiled. "All right, Rick I'd like you to tell me about your first sexual encounter."

"Huh," Riddick tilted his head, "You mean my first or first with River?"

"Your first," The companion clarified. "Can you tell me what it was like?"

"It was during the war," Riddick said quietly. "I was 'bout fifteen, an' one a the women in my unit an' I had shore leave same time. My buddy, he wanted a beer, an' so we all go in to town together. I ain't had any type a alcohol before so I weren't used to it. Turns out my animal don't care for whiskey too much, though a beer is all right." He smiled at River who nodded encouragingly. "Don't remember much, recall bein' randy an' there bein' women for hire. An' I was asking my buddy, what did he think. He's sweet on a girl already so he didn't want one. An' the woman in our unit, Jen, her name was, she sits in my lap an' kisses me, which I kinda liked, an' told me I didn' have ta pay if I wanted a woman."

Riddick looked at River, "She was a nice woman, 'bout ten years older'n me, though she didn't know that. My buddy an' me, we'd both lied 'bout our ages. So Jen thought I was eighteen. An I weren't gonna tell her different."

"So your first experience with sex was with a friend, who initiated you," Inara clarified. "What was it like?"

"Ain't ever felt anythin' so good," Riddick chuckled. "Thought my animal was gonna go crazy with the sensations. Wanted to touch her, an' taste her everywhere. An' it turned out that I got some sorta weird thing that even after I fall once I'm still ready to go, takes twice 'fore my body thinks it's done. Leastways 'til recent."

"So that was the first time you'd ever even kissed a woman and the two of you had sex," Inara said quietly. "Do you remember if she fell?"

Riddick nodded, a wicked grin splitting his face, "Dunno how it is for other men, but...I don't much like it less I can get the girl to fall. Feels wrong. First time we started an' I was galloping ahead a her an' realized her moanin' weren't real, she just didn't want me to feel bad." He chuckled, "She didn't know I could tell and was tryin' to fake her fall when I stopped an' called her on it. Tol' her iffen I weren't doin' somethin' she liked I'd 'preciate if she'd tell me." He kissed River's temple, "I liked it a lot better when I knew what she liked an' what she didn't."

"And had you any experience with sex before that, any kissing or petting with girls your own age?" Inara asked gently.

"Rape ain't sex," Riddick said flatly. "An' that was the only thing I'd seen 'fore the war. That was why I joined up. Saw too many high an' mighty folk abusin' kids. Killed one of 'em when I was fourteen an' joined up to hide out an' hurt them as had hurt kids like me."

"So your only positive experience with sex came at fifteen," Inara murmured. "All right," She looked at River. "What about you River? What was your first sexual encounter?"

River smiled shyly and squeezed Riddick's hand, "My láng," She began, "Found me attractive but would do nothing about it until I was old enough and we were safe from the academy. But I could feel that he desired me even though he did nothing. His animal recognized mine, loved me. But he wouldn't touch me." She brought Riddick's hand to her lips and kissed his palm. "When we crashed on planet, a merc chained Richard up. I snuck into see him. We argued a bit, and finally agreed that we would court. And I was able to kiss him." She shivered in desire, "I hadn't ever felt anything like it in my life, not even..." She looked down.

"And was kissing all the two of you did when you had time alone?" Inara inquired, making notes in her book.

"No," Riddick shook his head, "Really hadn't intended to get as far as it did," He slanted a glance at River. "River an' me we found a spot with some privacy." He shrugged a bit, "Just wanted to kiss her an' hold her, make sure my hands on her weren't gonna scare her."

"Hmm..." Inara made an encouraging noise. "The 'impending death situation' accelerated what was intended as only kissing?"

"Richard tried to stop," River said quietly. "Didn't wish to scare his girl, but I didn't wish to stop. He felt so good, to have him against me," She looked at Riddick, "Only time I feel safe is when you're against me, holding me." She pressed a kiss to his cheek, "I tempted him," She explained, "Until he put his hands on me, and touched me..." She shivered again, "Never felt such pleasure as when Richard's hands began to touch my flesh."

Riddick groaned at the scent of honey rising off River's skin and kissed her hungrily, "Gorram you smell so good." He released her mouth and kissed her cheek and neck, loving how she shivered under his mouth.

"I take it that you brought River to her fall," Inara smiled at the display of passion and obvious affection. "You weren't afraid?" She asked River.

"No," River shook her head. "Felt Richards mouth on my breast, his hand between my thighs," She smiled wickedly. "Learned that Richard's fingers inside felt better than my own. Screamed into his mouth. Made Richard fall," She added with a mischievous grin.

"Ain't ever finished that fast in my life," Riddick kissed her fingers, "Weren't more'n five strokes an' I'm fallin' hard and groanin' into her mouth." He chuckled, "An' then she pulls her hand outta my trousers and licks my seed off her hand, tells me I taste salty." His smile was iniquitous and slow, "River tastes like apples an' honey." He watched as the blush bloomed over River's cheeks and kissed her adoringly. "Love how you taste."

Inara's smile widened and she nodded, "So the two of you had no difficulty then." She looked at them thoughtfully, "But since then?"

"River's...when we're kissin' its fine," Riddick began slowly. "But the more we kiss, more passionate we get, River gets frightened, I can smell her fear," He kissed the back of River's hand, "I know you ain't scared a me. You'd tell me if I's scarin' you, I know. So it's gotta be what they did comin' back whenever you start to feel passionate."

"He's right," River nodded, "I never feel so safe as when Richard is holding me, he's rolled so that he's nearly on top of me at night and it's wonderful, as if his body is instinctively putting itself between me and the rest of the world. It's arousing to have his body pinning mine to a bed. But when we're kissing or touching, I start to stiffen up, I remember how the metal felt between my thighs, the pain of it, and how when I struggled it became worse. They had beat me before they...and every time I screamed it felt as if I were being stabbed." She felt Riddick's hand stroking her hair and knew he was smelling burnt cinnamon that meant her fear.

Inara nodded thoughtfully, "I do not wish to belittle your difficulties," She said quietly. "But what you are experiencing is quite common among victims of rape. That you aren't afraid of Richard is a very good sign." She smiled and regarded them both. "One more question, and then we'll leave it for a day or so while I think on a course of treatment. for you." River nodded her understanding and Riddick wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I want to know what you think of sex," Inara explained. "How do you feel about it in general?"

River frowned thoughtfully, "In general, I'm... angry about it I suppose," She shook her head. "I know it's supposed to be enjoyable, a natural act between two people who are attracted to each other, or in love or married. I suppose I find it a little embarrassing, it's so... impolite. But until Richard kissed me, I didn't see any of that in what I experienced. Self exploration was enjoyable but only to a point, after that it was always vaguely dissatisfactory."

Riddick smiled at his girl, and waited a moment to be certain she was finished before he gave his answer, "Suppose I always thought it was something the body just...needed now an' then, like food or sleep. Never gave any thought to love until I met River, thought that was some sorta fairytale made up so the race wouldn't die out." He chuckled, "But in an orphanage an' on the streets, ain't a lotta privacy an' I just got used to folks doin' whatever as they needed to. Never much liked whores or Companions, not that I could afford a Companion even if she would look twice at me, they weren't always interested in sex. I could always tell if a woman actually wanted me, or if she wanted somethin' else. Animal makes bein' with anyone who ain't honest uncomfortable as hell."

"Is that part of why you're so adamant that you'll wait for River to be ready?" Inara asked curiously, "Because to do otherwise feels wrong?"

"Yeah," Riddick looked at his woman and smiled. "Animal has wanted her since I first saw her, an' that were damn disturbin' considerin' she was hardly past fifteen. I learned a long time ago that if a girl didn't want me there weren't no changin' her mind. So I never expected River to like me back. When she started to care 'bout me, was like a sip a heaven. An' if I weren't gonna push even a whore into havin' me when she weren't interested, I damn sure wasn't going to do it to my partner, the woman I love," Riddick shook his head.

"All right," Inara closed her book and looked at the two of them. "I'm going to think about this for a day or two," She told them. "I want you both to come back here after dinner in two days." Dark eyes were evaluating them thoughtfully, "For now, I want you two to practice kissing and some mild touching, going as far as you want so long as you're both feeling safe, when you're together at night. Rick, you being on top of River will be important since that's how she feels the safest."

"All right," Riddick nodded, "Ain't gonna be easy though, Mal said iffen we share a bunk we cain't shut the door until River's eighteen."

"I'll speak with him about it," Inara said quietly. "You won't feel safe if you don't have privacy and if you don't have privacy you won't be able to do the homework I'm going to give the two of you."

River blushed at the thought of homework for this sort of therapy and leaned into Riddick, "Should go, need to make sure your bunk is set up well."

"Our bunk Qīng Xiāng," Riddick corrected her. "If it ain't ours, no point in me havin' it. I'll sleep on the floor in your room."

"Our bunk," River repeated with a shy smile and giggled as Riddick scooped her up and carried her out of the shuttle with a hasty thanks for the tea as they left.

Author's Note: So? What did you all think? I'm pretty excited these days, a little interlude and then we have the Train Job! I'm thinking some of the episodes will have slightly different endings, some things will take on more meaning than others. I don't want to diverge too much from the series in regards to the progression of events. But at the same time I want things to be just different enough. Simon and River are different than they are in the show and Riddick is a huge change to the dynamic. So while it may seem events aren't changing much it's how the crew perceives things that I want to be mostly changed. I'm thinking it'll be a little bit before Mal really understands just what it is he's carrying on Serenity. He might get an inkling but I have it in mind for a certain episode that Mal will meet the real Riddick. I don't think he'll care much for it. Do you?

Anyway, please review and let me know what you guys think. There's an unfilmed episode out there called Dead or Alive and I'm debating using that as well as the regular season. What do you guys think? It involves some tracking at night so I thought that'd be perfect for Riddick given what Jayne told Mal about his old friend a chapter or two ago. But the plot also involves an old army buddy of Zoe and Mal's which echoes The Message in a way. I'd really like an opinion on this.

Chinese Translations:

láng - wolf

Qīng Xiāng - Sweet Scent

Quote Sources:

All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts - As You Like It - William Shakespeare