15) The Place Where You Belong

Wash was nervously scanning the cortex yet again, even though River had told him she'd found nothing new. Kaylee had taken the co-pilot's seat, she and Wash were sitting in companionable worried silence while River sat in Riddick's lap in the third chair. No one was speaking much. Riddick was looking over everything River had transferred to Simon's encyclopedia, and the two of them were quietly thinking over their options if Mal proved persistent in believing River was unstable. Riddick knew River was worrying on something, trying to figure out what 'hands of blue' meant, but it wasn't coming to her. A threat to them both, nebulous or sufficiently cloaked in secrets that it would take time before it was revealed was the most likely scenario.

He took the encyclopedia out of her hands and quickly brought up an old story from Earth That Was, one that usually amused them both and nodded at Wash and Kaylee. River smiled and began to read, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." She had succeeded in distracting Wash and Kaylee with those words, as both turned to stare at her as she read on. "However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

Kaylee giggled at that and Wash smiled neither one of them having much experience in high society but quite a bit of familiarity with small towns. River continued to read, occasionally interrupted by one of her listeners with a question until the familiar stomping of Jayne was heard in the hallway. River closed her mouth and the encyclopedia at the same time, as Jayne entered the cockpit followed by Simon who was hovering with an usually worried expression on his face.

"That's it! We've waited long enough," Jayne declared roughly. "Let's get this bird in the air."

Every bit of the good mood River had so carefully fostered faded out of Wash's expression, "No rutting way."

Simon was still hovering, trying to get Jayne's attention, "You really should sit down."

Kaylee shook her head, "You can't just leave the Captain and Zoe here."

Jayne was clearly of the opinion that he could, "They ain't comin', we can't walk in there and get 'em, so they're done. Now let's fire it up."

Riddick slid River off his lap and shook his head, "Cobh, I ain't in a rush, why're you?"

"Got no likin' for bein' hung wrong ways down on a hook by my ankles an' skinned on top a it," Jayne snarled. Riddick tilted his head, Jayne was genuinely worried but not about being tortured. It must be the ship's position, Wash had set them down in the closest appropriate spot, but they weren't exactly camouflaged.

"I still hold that the Shepherd's notion of Niska not carin' for Mal bein' held is a true one," Riddick folded his arms ignoring the twinge in his shoulder the movement caused.

"An' that might still be a sound notion, but we're sittin' ducks, gotta least move some," Jayne persisted. Inara and Book walked onto the bridge, no doubt drawn by all the hollering Jayne was doing.

The companion took in the situation at a glance, "What's going on?"

"Strap in, we're takin' off," Jayne told her shortly.

Wash was equally emphatic in his denial, "We're Not."

Jayne was clearly not willing to wait any longer, "Captain'd do the same if it was one of us."

"Not in a million years!" Kaylee denied.

"Shove it," Jayne snarled.

Wash was clearly not interested in Jayne's perspective, "Listen to me!"

Neither was Jayne interested in Wash, Riddick listened in amusement as Cobh began to snarl in a very credible imitation of Riddick in a temper, "You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who's in ruttin' command here. Now we're finishin' this deal, and then maybe, maybe, we'll come back for those morons who got themselves caught," He started to breath heavily, and sway a bit, "You can't change that by getting all..." His voice slurred and slowed a bit, "bendy."

Wash was confused, as was everyone else, "All what?"

Jayne's mouth had obviously stopped connecting with his brain because the babble was amusing but senseless, "You've got the lights.. from the console.. keep you, lift you up. They shine like," He began grabbing at the air in front of his face, "Little angels..." As Riddick watched Jayne's eyes rolled in the back of his head and he began to fall forward.

With a muttered curse Riddick caught his old friend and kept him from concussing himself on the chair back or the floor, his shoulder protesting the big man's weight with angry pulling sensations.

Wash blinked in shock, "Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?"

"I told him to sit down," Simon shook his head.

Kaylee stared at the newest crew member in amazement, "You doped him."

"It was supposed to kick in a good deal sooner. I," He ducked his head for a moment before continuing, "I just didn't feel comfortable with him in charge. I hope... hope that's all right."

Riddick sighed, he wasn't looking forward to lugging Jayne to the infirmary, but it wasn't as if the man couldn't use the rest from the crazy mask he'd been wearing. He looked at River and she nodded, she knew he was hoping Niska's men didn't find them before Jayne recuperated from whatever drug Simon had doped him with.

"So. How do we get the others?" Book came right to the point.

Wash sighed and sat back down in his chair, stepping over Jayne to do so, "Jayne was right about them not making contact. Chances are, they got pinched getting off that train."

"We can't just waltz in and pull them out," Kaylee pointed out, her pragmatic nature winning out over her optimism.

"Someone respectable enough might be able to," Book slanted a glance at Inara.

Riddick had managed to cart Jayne most of the way down to the cargo bay before his shoulder started arguing with him. River was frowning in concentration as she waited for Inara and the others to reach the ship. They were all ready to take off at a moments notice once the shuttle returned.

Kaylee smiled up at Inara as she stepped out onto the catwalk, "Hey. How'd it go?"

Mal scowled like a schoolboy, "She hit me."

Wash hugged Zoe in relief as Kaylee explained about Jayne on the stair landing, "We tried to get him into the infirmary, he's just heavy."

Riddick looked at River, "Go get something that'll wake Jayne up right quick bǎo bèi." He sniffed the air, tilting his head only half listening to Wash and Mal.

"Captain, I've got the engine running, we're good to go," The pilot was clearly ready to leave Regina in his rearview.

"We're not going," Mal shook his head just as River had known he would.

"Not? What?" Wash was confused, "Not why?"

"We're bringin' the cargo back," Zoe explained.

Riddick stood by Jayne as River came hurrying back with a syringe full of something that smelled noxious just as Jayne started to come out of his drugged nap. Even semiconscious Jayne still kept up his charade, "Wha? Whadda mean back? I waited for you guys!" Quickly River injected the drug into his thigh, hiding the syringe in her pocket.

Wash's voice had a tight worried quality that Riddick found entirely too appropriate given what he was hearing, "What are you talking about? What about Niska? Won't this put him in more or less a killing mood?"

Mal and Zoe were busy with the cargo, not paying attention to the open airlock, "There's others need this more." Mal said brusquely.

Zoe nodded her agreement, "Let's get it on the mule."

"My shuttle's faster," Inara offered.

Mal shook his head, "You already risked enough flying in there once. And..." He half grinned as he kept loading the crates, "I don't wanna get slapped around no more. Far as Niska goes, we'll just have to explain to him the job went south when we return the money."

Wash pointed out what Riddick had been hearing for the past few minutes, "You wanna explain, now's your chance." Crow and several more men than they had crew were standing on the ramp of the airlock, giving Riddick a very bad feeling.

River looked at Riddick and nodded, darting up the stairs past Kaylee and Inara and disappearing into the upper deck. Riddick began to count mentally, Mal could delay Crow for a bit, but the faster River got back with her Ladysmiths the happier Riddick would be. Jayne had been quiet since his initial outburst and Riddick looked at him. Jayne nodded slowly, still drugged but his mind was apparently clearing faster than his body.

Crow's ugly face started talking and Riddick took a deep breath, "You didn't make the rendezvous."

"Ran into a few complications," Mal said easily. His tone couldn't fool Riddick like it did Crow, the captain certain this would turn ugly and he was ready if it did.

"You were thinking of taking Mr. Niska's money and his property, maybe," Crow suggested with a frown.

Mal shook his head, "Ah, interestingly, neither."

The tattooed thug wasn't very bright, "I don't understand."

The captain's tone became a trifle crisp, "Yeah, look. Here's what it is. Deal's off." When Crow apparently wasn't getting that, Mal continued in a tone of elaborate obviousness. "We changed our minds."

Now Crow got it, "You entered into an arrangement with Mr. Niska. There is no mind changing."

The nervous laugh Mal gave didn't quite comfort Riddick who braced for the fight, "I'm afraid that's where you're wrong. We just... we can't take this job, so you just relax. We'll get you all the money Niska gave us up front, you return it to him, and we'll call it even."

"There is no even," Crow shook his head.

"Is that right?" Mal wondered.

Crow's response was to throw a knife that hit Mal in the shoulder. Riddick drew his side arm and shot one of the men at the ramp before jumping over the stair railing to attack directly. He heard Zoe's mare's leg with its distinctive firing sound. He was instantly aware when River pushed Inara and Kaylee aside and used her twin Ladysmith pistols from the catwalk, moving constantly so she wasn't a fixed target. Wash got on the mule and ran over a few of the enemy ensuring they wouldn't rise again. Mal was struggling upward and about to get speared by Crow when one last shot rang out. Crow's legs went out from under him, his knee a bloody mess.

"Nice shot," Mal complimented a slumped Jayne, gun still smoking in his hand.

Riddick had to hide his smile as Jayne slurred exaggeratedly, "I was aiming for his head."

Riddick looked at Mal as the captain began to walk down the airlock ramp towards the tied up henchmen, Crow included among them, "You really mean to give back the money Niska paid us?" He asked curiously, his dark voice quiet against the night.

Mal nodded shortly, "I surely do. We didn't do the job."

"Niska'll come after you regardless," Riddick pointed out. "His reputation won't stand for it otherwise."

"I keep it, makes it that much worse. I don't double-cross folks," Mal retorted. "I do a job I get paid. I don't do the job, I don't get paid."

"Yeah," Riddick nodded his understanding of that, "Got a similar outlook." He glanced back at the stairs up to the catwalk where River sat waiting. "You do what you gotta. We wanna talk to you when you're done."

"She ain't gonna be crew," Mal looked at Riddick, "I know you're attached. An' I ain't sayin' you shouldn't be."

"I don't talk 'bout my business in front a the enemy Mal," Riddick snarled the words out, only mildly grateful the captain had been keeping his voice level with Riddick's. "Take care a your mess an' then come find us. We'll talk then."

Riddick stalked back into Serenity and sat next to River, nearly fuming over the older man's idiocy, "Fool thinks he's the only one ever lost a war." He remarked to River quietly.

River nodded and wrinkled her nose as the sound of something large and meaty crunched through Serenity's engine intake. "Crow wasn't willing to listen." She remarked placidly. "Stupid and loyal, but just cunning enough to be useful."

Riddick nodded, "Yeah, we're gonna have trouble with Niska." He looked at her with a smile, "You empty out his accounts yet?"

"A good portion," River nodded. "Want to wait, do others at different times and places, harder for anyone to track." She rose as she saw Mal walking into the ship and close the ramp to the airlock behind him, "Going to visit Kaylee. She wishes to talk about Simon."

"Have fun liàn rén," Riddick kissed her hand affectionately and watched as she walked away, her stride smooth and slow and graceful. Mal was walking towards him, an irritated look on his face and Riddick decided he'd nip that in the bud, "Cain't talk 'bout my bein' partial to a girl in front a Niska's men." He said flatly. "You want to give him a way to get to me? Guarantee I'll have to kill everyone in sight to get her back? That's the way to do it right there, just talk about the murderer bein' 'attached' to a girl who won't be crew."

"Wasn't speakin' loud enough to be heard over the engines," Mal objected his voice a bit milder than his expression would warrant.

"Anyone used to engines might have heard you," Riddick shook his head and stood as Mal neared him. "Bet you Kaylee could have, Wash too. Jayne would have heard every word plain as day." He folded his arms and looked at the Captain, "I don't take chances with River. I can't afford to."

"I'll pass the word that we don't mention her or your association in public," Mal said quietly, "But my point about her stands."

"Yeah?" Riddick tilted his head, "Funny how everything she said happened. An' everythin' she told Zoe worked out pretty well didn' it?" He eyed the Captain thoughtfully, "You be stubborn about it, that's fine. Don' really care. But River got the money to pay her fare usin' her genius brain. Might be you should rethink your position a bit." He lifted his uninjured shoulder in a shrug. "You oughta get Simon to look at that cut on your shoulder."

He looked up as River appeared on the catwalk again, skipping lightly down the stairs to throw herself into Riddick's good arm. "Serenity is being fussy, Kaylee has no time to talk now," The slender woman explained as she kissed her partner's cheek. "Sit with me and read?"

"You got it," Riddick nodded to Mal and wrapped his arm around River's waist, guiding her towards the couch in the passenger lounge.

He and River sat and listened as Simon stitched up Mal's shoulder, admonishing the captain that it should have been seen to sooner. The conversation wasn't terribly stimulating until Mal asked how River was.

Simon shook his head, "The same. One moment she seems perfectly cogent, the next..." He sighed, "She speaks nonsense, like a child. So difficult to diagnose. And I still don't know what the government was trying to do with her, so I have no idea if they succeeded."

"Cain't Rick help with that?" Mal wondered as Simon stitched his shoulder up.

"He could if he would," Simon's voice was more than a touch irked. "But he claims to not know what they did exactly. He says to leave her alone, that I shouldn't try to make her talk about it."

River looked at Riddick and shook her head, "Two by two, hands of blue. Two by two, hands of blue." She said softly, "Can't see them yet. Just know they're coming."

"We'll have to think on that some more then," Riddick murmured. "You get anything 'sides blue hands? They skin or gloves? Any faces?"

"Impression of blue...up to the neck, cadaverous faces, teeth too shiny, gleaming like sharks," River whispered, "Asking about me."

"All right so blue up to the neck, means some sorta body armor," The convict frowned thoughtfully. "Jayne's gonna hafta give you an' Simon an' even harder time after Simon drugged him."

"Speaking of Jayne," River smiled. "Thought it might be worthwhile to speak to your friend once I've narrowed the search a bit."

"Yeah, an' we gotta get set up with better ident cards than the ones Simon got off that underground railroad," Riddick nodded. "You thinkin' a gettin' some equipment?"

"Thought a little business of my own would be a good idea," River said quietly. "Can't always find evil people to steal from. But I can forge papers and ident cards, backed with hacking perhaps, or short term temp cards."

"Sounds good, what sorta equipment you need for that?" Her partner kissed the top of her head, "A dedicated sourcebox I'm guessin'."

"And something to print with, laminated paper and a machine to embed holographs," River ticked the items off on her fingers. "Would also be nice to have an encyclopedia of my own, or a databook."

"Maybe two sourceboxes? One of 'em portable?" Riddick suggested. "Need to find you some body armor too."

"Much to plan," River agreed and snuggled against his side.

"Meanwhile," Riddick smoothed a strand of hair away from her face and kissed her gently when she looked up, "Why don't we go up to the galley and sit with Jayne. Mal'll come up there in a bit an' you can give him your fare." A wicked grin tilted his lips, "The shock'd serve him right for how stupid he's bein'."

River nodded happily, "Like him well enough, but wish he'd stop jumping to conclusions about me."

"Exactly." Riddick nodded.

Jayne gave River and Riddick a grin when they entered the galley, "Zoe an' Wash are on the bridge," He told them. "Nice shootin' earlier River," He nodded at the slender woman. "Don't think Mal or Zoe even noticed."

"Did not," River shrugged, still a bit irked that only the two people aware of her secret knew of her contribution to the continued survival of the crew. "Only see what they expect to see."

"You been helpin' me out a lot, looking for Ciara, workin' with me on my letters," Jayne said slowly. "How'd you feel 'bout a trade?"

"What would the man called Jayne like to trade?" River asked promptly sitting down across from the big gun hand, Riddick pouring them all some tea before taking a seat himself.

"Rick's good at takin' care a his weapons," Jayne began, "An' I reckon you know how to clean yours. But Rick'll tell ya, ain't many to touch me for 'smithin'. I can teach ya how ta take something apart, find out if there's anythin' wrong, fix it, an' put it all back together again." He smiled slightly, "Most a the guns I got, I picked up from folks as didn't need 'em no more an' I worked on 'em 'til they was solid every one. Figure you an' Rick'll have a collection a your own pretty soon. I took quite a few offa them boys what came to kill us all, you an' Rick have a look, take your share of 'em since ya'll kept me from getting' killed."

"Simon shouldn't have doped you, Richard said he would keep you from going too far," River frowned. "Underestimated Simon's concern about your blustering. Counteragent to the sedative shouldn't have been needed. Sorry Jayne." She nodded finally as she considered Jayne's offer, "I would like to learn gun smithing from Jayne."

"Eh," Jayne shrugged, "Worked out fine." He picked a canvas sack off the floor and set it on the table with a thump. "Why don' ya'll have a look see, take what ya like, an' then we'll have our first lesson. Don't seem like them fellas really took good care a their tools."

Riddick grinned at River and dumped the contents of the bag onto the table knowing that Jayne would have unloaded each gun before putting them in the sack. "Gorram Cobh, did ya leave 'em anythin'?"

The bigger man shrugged, "They was loaded for bear." He explained, "I left 'em a gun each and enough ammo for it. That were more'n they deserved."

River was looking over the plethora of weapons and picked up a nice LeMat, seeing how it fit in her hand. "This one is pretty," She tried it with her left and her right, "Fits my hand." She smiled, "What do you think?" Dark brown eyes looked up Riddick.

"Looks like a nice little piece," Riddick nodded thoughtfully. "Anything we find that's bigger, gonna have to custom fit the stock so it don't hurt your hands."

"Yeah, might see iffen you can find an Evangelista," Jayne suggested. "They's got nice slim stocks."

"Slugger or a Marakov maybe," Riddick said idly finding one that struck his fancy. "Gonna have to give these a good cleanin'," He noted as he picked up another. "Gorram," He frowned, "This's so filthy ya can hardly tell it's a Python underneath."

River had found another LeMat and was examining it, "Appears this was used to pistol whip someone, barrel is minutely bent." She showed it to Riddick.

"Have to see iffen Jayne can fix that," Riddick sighted down the barrel and nodded his agreement. "Ya'll wanna start cleanin' these now?"

"Yeah I brought up the gear from the armory," Jayne nodded and put the supplies next to the pile of guns. "Figured whatever folks didn't want for their private collections we'd stick down there." He looked at Riddick thoughtfully, "Might be a good idea for you to take the doc out an' get him some 'perience handlin' a gun. He'd do all right with a Slugger or a LeMat."

"Simon isn't ready to handle guns yet," River disagreed. "But the thought is a sound one." She began to take her new guns apart setting each piece down in an orderly row. "Please pass the gun oil."

All three of them were immersed in their work when Mal entered the galley. The curse that dropped from the Captain's lips was filthy enough that River looked around to see what was wrong. "Can someone tell me why the little crazy person is handlin' guns?" Mal asked angrily. "I don't want her messin' about with weapons."

"Too late for that," Riddick drawled and continued to clean his new gun.

"I can see that, but that don't mean I can't put a stop to it," Mal retorted.

"Richard means earlier today," River said calmly. "And I'm not crazy."

"Talkin' nonsense out of the blue and dancin' 'thout music ain't symptoms of sane," Mal argued. "I don't want you touching guns."

"Geez," Jayne shifted uncomfortably, "They ain't even loaded Mal." He looked down at the gun he was cleaning clearly feeling awkward.

"I think you have a problem with your brain being missing," River spoke calmly. "You do not see what is obvious. You do not hear or notice what is plain as day." She finished cleaning the pieces and assembled her gun with quick clever fingers.

"What'd ya think they taught her in the Academy Mal," Riddick snorted derisively, "Tea ceremony?"

"Her brother's the doc-" Mal was interrupted before he could continue that line of thought.

"Her brother ain't the one who was there with her," Riddick snarled. "She has her moments but she ain't crazy."

"Moments where a loaded gun could be dangerous," The captain insisted.

"Hell, we all go a little mad sometimes," The escaped convict was near to losing his patience. "And if you didn't want River using a gun then maybe you should have put that in your rules before she saved your hide today."

"Saved my hide?"

Jayne didn't say anything, just snorted a laugh under his breath as he continued to clean his new weapons as if the captain was being deliberately obtuse.

Riddick sighed, "River has guns already, I bought her a set of Ladysmiths when I got my own equipment. Got her a sweet set a knives too," A half smile curved his lips at the memory of River's kiss of thanks for the weapons. "When Niska's crew turned up River was shooting at them from the catwalks, on the move so she weren't a sitting duck. Know she kept more'n one from shooting you or Zoe, or me or Jayne for that matter."

Mal stared at River and then at Riddick, "Exactly what have you been trained to do?" He asked finally. "Because the Doc thinks you're nuts."

"Simon doesn't think I'm crazy, but Simon isn't ready to know yet and neither are you," River said quietly. "I don't have cash, but I can transfer credits to any account you like in payment for my passage, or we can wait until we get to Persephone and I'll get you cash." She finished cleaning the other LeMat and set it down near Jayne for him to examine before picking up another gun thoughtfully. "Simon doesn't always understand me because he doesn't see what I do, doesn't hear the same things. Richard understands me because I'm like him now, the animal is aware and alive in me."

"Still don't like you touchin' guns," Mal objected half-heartedly.

"Don't like you talking behind my back and calling me crazy," River said flatly. "Guess we both have to live with what we don't like."

"Difference is I'm Captain of this boat," This being pointed out seemed to make no impression on River. "What I say goes."

"He must get used to disappointment," The diminutive woman shrugged. "Will not go unarmed because you say so. Had ample opportunity to do harm to you and your crew and did not." She tilted her head, "No interest in continuing this conversation," She said abruptly, "Going to bed." She picked up her new gun and kissed Riddick on the cheek before patting Jayne on the head as she passed, undiscouraged by his snarl of dislike.

Riddick shook his head, "Hate to leave you with the mess Cobh." He said slowly, "But iffen she tries to sleep 'thout me she gets nightmares."

"Yeah, go on," Jayne waved his hand. "Didn't figure on finishin' tonight no ways."

The murderer chuckled and shook his head at the captain, "Might be you should talk a little less an' listen a little more. Simon ain't the only one worried 'bout this girl." He paused in the doorway and looked back at Mal, "River's mine. Don't matter we can't get married legally 'thout drawing the Feds down on us, she's still mine. An' I wouldn't give her anything she couldn't or wouldn't use." He walked soundlessly out of the room.

Riddick heard Mal asking Jayne, "You ain't gonna take it into your head to do something I don't like next are ya?"

"Dunno Mal," Jayne's voice was amused, "'S damn funny from where I'm sittin'."

Riddick woke to the sound of Wash moving down the hall to the bridge, his steps slow and tired, the pilot had been doing his best to walk quietly but it wasn't something that came naturally to him. For a moment the escaped convict just lay in the bed and savored holding River, the way she was nestled against him, her hands clasping his wrist between her breasts, soft hair against his cheek, legs tangled with his under the quilts. Even as he was appreciating the silkiness of her skin under his fingertips she gave a sleepy little groan and stretched against him, her body rubbing over his in ways his animal wanted to appreciate in detail. "Was I thinkin' too loud?" He murmured the question with a kiss to her hair.

"Hmm…no, heard someone outside," River mumbled. "Would Richard like our katas and perhaps combat before the rest of the crew rises from slumber? Would love to have a no holds barred."

"Yeah, let's do that," Riddick agreed before turning her in his arms and kissing her firmly on the mouth. "Good morning partner, mate."

"Good morning my mate, my Riddick," River smiled up at him, her face perfectly illuminated in the darkness thanks to his peculiar vision. "Love waking up with you like this."

"Hmm…" Riddick groaned his agreement. "Better get up though b'fore I get ideas 'bout keepin' you in bed."

"She likes Riddick's ideas," The slender woman chuckled wickedly. "But routine is important, and we are to speak with Inara later today."

"Yeah," Riddick nodded, "How're you feelin' 'bout alla that anyhow?" He asked as they finally forced themselves to leave the bed. River moved almost as easily in the dark as he did, finding her clothing and pulling on her workout gear. After a moment of self-indulgence watching his woman get dressed Riddick began to do the same, grabbing his goggles and a pair of pants.

River shrugged, "Uncomfortable but still glad of improvement," She grimaced. "Like the therapy for my leg after the creature wounded me. It hurt but I'm stronger for it, able to walk and dance without a limp." She smiled at her mate in the darkness, "Glad that my fear is less each time you touch me."

The light of the hall was dim but not so dark as their bunk had been and River moved easily over the metal floors, every motion a study in grace. Flicking the lights on for the bay Riddick grinned at River and watched her pull on the brief suede bottomed shoes made for workouts on uneven flooring. He could go without any type of covering on his feet, but hers were so slender she risked snapping a toe or catching her foot in the grating.

The opening stance of the kata was familiar as breathing, and soon they were both moving through the meditation exercise, minds calming and entwining more firmly with the animals. Halfway through it River was aware of Wash coming to stand on the catwalk above them as was his habit. The pilot had his own way of zen, but enjoyed the slow deceptively lazy movements of the kata. She nearly smiled, today he was in for a surprise.

Riddick slanted a glance at River as he caught the tequila scent of her amusement and a half grin quirked his lips upward. He could hear other folk on the ship stirring, Book was up and Simon was beginning to wake. Zoe and the Captain were moving around in their bunks and Kaylee was half tumbling out of her hammock in the engine room. Even Jayne was waking up, stirred by his hunger more than anything else. Riddick pulled his mind out of those thoughts, letting the background noise of the ship and its crew settle into his mind, finding a place for each of them as he moved through the kata.

River's scent still had traces of tequila but her base scent of silk, blood, steel and apples was strong in his nose, today was a good day, she was centered very strongly. He came to a halt at the end of the kata and bowed to her, smiling as she did the same. "Ready my mate?" She asked him teasingly.

"Born ready partner," Riddick retorted. He was acutely aware of Mal and Zoe joining Wash on the catwalk and mentally teased River that they'd have to give the captain a good show.

"The game is afoot; follow your spirit, and upon this charge…" River's smile was hovering about her lips as she dared him to finish the quote.

"Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'," Riddick replied and they were off. River never began the same way twice, this time her first blow was a kick to his jaw rocking his head back before he aimed a punch at her side. It was exhilarating and fun and enormously taxing to evade and block and hit back, she was damn fast and so graceful he could get distracted watching her make combat look like a dance.

River grinned as she ducked a blow and tried to kick the back of Riddick's knee. He was very quick, and whenever he connected it took her time to recover, the strength of his blows were so powerful. Plus he knew to block her mind so she couldn't read what he was going to do next, forcing her to concentrate on their combat. They were both gleaming with sweat, bodies straining and clashing again and again. As their sparring continued she was more aware of her surroundings while keeping her concentration on the fight. That was part of why she and Richard practiced so often, so she could work on that awareness, knowing it could save their lives.

Jayne and Kaylee had joined the other three on the catwalk, Inara coming in from the opposite side of the upper bay. Book was standing in the doorway of the lounge, amazed as the rest of them were, and then Simon joined him. Simon's mind…screamed horror, guilt, fear and worry until she was struggling to block it out of her awareness.

Riddick frowned as River just barely ducked his kick and a wave of citrus and pecans invaded her normal scent. She was hurting and uncertain all of the sudden and he shook his head as her jaw set as if to continue their bout. "River," It was enough to speak her name. She stopped mid kick and stood, almost swaying, shaking her head. "What is it?"

"Simon's mind…he's…" River whispered. "Worry and fear and guilt and he's horrified at what they've done to me, what they turned me into." She took a deep breath and let it out shakily. "Need to do the kata again. Or have tea and meditate…something…" She shook her head.

"How 'bout the kata?" Riddick suggested quietly, "That'll cool us down too, less you wanna do some sets?"

River shook her head, "Won't be able to concentrate on the workout like this." She looked at his hands, he'd instinctively moved them to her bare shoulders, covering some of her scars. On her belly and her back more tiny white lines were traced over her flesh, trails of the pain she'd endured, matched on his body. Her hand reached out and traced the scar that ran from his shoulder down to his heart, a knife slash she'd been forced to give him after he'd taught her to use a shiv down and dirty, just bisecting the marks of her teeth in his shoulder.

"Love that you mark me," Riddick murmured for her ears only. "Your teeth in my shoulder, makes the animal feel safe River." He lifted a hand to touch her cheek and she smiled tremulously up at him, he could almost feel her gathering her strength, her steel discipline firming her resolve. "Take down your hair, let me catch your scent, soothes me like nothin' else." He suggested with a smile.

River nodded and pulled the chopstick out of her hair, setting it on the weight bench before taking up her position next to Riddick for their kata. It took some time, but finally she'd regained what she'd lost when Simon's mind intruded upon hers. Tired but feeling pretty good about the morning she looked up at her partner and grinned, tilting her head inquiringly.

Riddick loved that mischievous little smile that curved her lips, that tilt of her head just for him, that said they were both hot and sweaty so how about a race? Dark eyes and hair, alabaster skin gleaming, she couldn't be more perfect if she tried. "Round the boat an' back here?" He suggested.

"Twice, once in reverse," River suggested with a giggle, "Avoiding spectators will be key."

"You're on," Riddick nodded his agreement, "So up the back stairs, to the back hall, down the front stairs, across the bay, to here, then back the way we came." He laid out the course with a twitch of his lips knowing that Mal was going to start shouting any second when he caught on to what they were planning.

"Five, four, three, two, one," River blinked when Mal didn't yell and took off at a dead run, Riddick tearing after her, both of them soundless even on vibrating stairs and old grating.

They'd made it halfway through the ship and were ready to turn and reverse their course when Mal started to yell that there weren't any racin' on his boat and there shouldn't be runnin' 'less someone was dyin'. River stopped and looked up at the captain, "Someone could be dying." She suggested. "How will we know if we can react in a proper fashion unless we move quickly."

"That ain't the point," Mal shook his head. "Enough a the runnin', my boat ain't a raceway."

"Could be," River argued. "Just was." She slipped her hand into Riddick's and leaned against him. "Scared Simon earlier," She said softly. "The race was fun, made him remember I'm still his sister."

"Yeah, he distracted ya earlier didn' he," Riddick kissed the top of her head, winding her hair around his fingers. "First time he's seen ya fight a person, seen you for what we both are." He looked over at Simon, "Let's have a little talk with him. Maybe enlighten him a bit. He's guessed an awful lot, but he still thinks you're unstable."

"He's not entirely wrong," River sighed as Riddick's hands moved over her shoulders and scalp. "Need to present a united front."

"Yeah, lets have a chat with Simon 'bout that." Riddick nodded and let River lead the way over to her brother.

Simon looked at them and Riddick could hear the doctor's sigh even from several feet away, "Come into my room." Simon went back to the passenger quarters and slid open his door, taking a seat in the chair and gesturing for the two of them to make themselves comfortable on the bed.

"What I don't get Doc, is exactly what you think is goin' on with River?" Riddick said quietly, "You didn't act surprised by anythin' we did on planet. But we get on this boat an' one minute you're tellin' Mal that River ain't crazy. The next you let it slip that she's had brain surgery and she's unstable. You don't blink when she holds a gun on Dobson, but she spars with me an' you're so upset that she almost took a punch."

"Simon is confusing," River said softly. "Seems to accept me, then does not. One moment pleased the next angry," She shook her head. "Do you wish that you had not come for me?" She looked at her brother sadly, "I'm not the same girl. I'm what they made me now...but you're still looking for your little sister."

"How can you ask me that?" Simon shook his head, "River, you're my little sister." He left his chair and knelt in front of her, taking her hand. "River, I won't deny...being confronted with the reality of what was done to you...shocks me at times. Horrifies me, what they must have done in order to force you to learn. But I couldn't ever regret getting you and Rick out."

"Why'd you talk to Mal 'bout River not being stable then?" Riddick asked quietly. "She's a better shot than he is but Mal was talkin' after the train job 'bout her not touchin' guns." He shook his head, "I'd understand a bit better if you were railin' 'bout me sharin' a bunk with her. God knows I ain't good 'nuff for her. But you don't act like you got a problem with me at all."

"Oh I have problems with you," Simon speared Riddick with a cold look. "I could go on a day about my problems with you, beginning with you bunking with River and ending with your lack of information on what was done to her by the Academy." He sighed, "River is unstable. She has bouts of random babbling, says things that make no sense. Neither of you will let me even try to help." The slender man pushed himself up and took his seat again looking at the two of them.

"Simon," River looked at her brother, "I just...you already have so much to deal with, I don't think... I didn't think you needed to hear anymore." She looked at Riddick, "And Richard hasn't talked to you about it because he honestly doesn't know exactly what they did during the surgeries. I know that I'm different, and it must be easy to see Richard as the cause of the change... but he hasn't done anything but help me live with what they did to me."

"And your talks with Inara?" Simon asked quietly. "You both speak with her regularly, not merely social visits, but you won't speak to me."

"I ain't told you about that because River didn't want..." Riddick shook his head. "We didn't want to lay another burden on you."

"Please let me decide what sort of burden I can bear and what I can't," Simon looked at them both. "If its something you have trouble talking about I understand that, and that Inara can offer you a type of healing I can't. But keeping me in the dark doesn't help any of us."

"All right," River took a deep breath and her fingers slid over Riddick's palm, interlacing with his. "I... I'm having problems... with... with intimacy." She began quietly.

"Could it just be that you aren't ready?" Simon offered gently, "I know you love him River, but that doesn't mean you're ready for sex."

"At least you recognize that I love him, instead of saying it's just gratitude," River retorted dryly. "That's an improvement," She shuddered and shook her head slowly. "No, that isn't what I meant when I said I was having problems," She looked at Simon. "I'd appreciate it if you would let me tell it, and not...interrupt me with comments please. I've gotten it out once or twice but not without having a panic attack at least once." She looked at Riddick, "Since it isn't officially therapy...could you please, just keep touching me while I tell it?"

"You know I will," Riddick slid closer to her so his legs were pressed up against hers, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, his hand resting in her lap with their fingers twined together. "Just remember to breathe, an' take your time, ain't a rush."

"Right," River looked at Simon. "I've been having trouble with intimacy...Richard would kiss me and...we couldn't even kiss for very long before I'd start to be afraid." She shook her head, "I know Richard would never hurt me, and I wasn't afraid of him, but I still was afraid." She rubbed her head against Riddick's arm and gave a shaky smile. "I knew why, Richard knew why, that was why he strongly suggested I talk to Inara. It was Mal that said Richard needed to talk to her too." She looked at Simon, "You have to understand, the first year or so, I liked it at the Academy, I could study whatever I liked and I still had time for art and dance. But I was constantly challenged. It was only after I was elevated that I... I tried to resist the training."

Dark eyes stared into Simon's before River looked down at her hands, "I have at least one trigger. I've been hacking trying to find out what it is so that I can break it down." She shuddered and Riddick's lips pressed to the top of her head in silent reassurance. "I...tried to resist, refused to do the training, deliberately failed at a test," Tears began to trickle down her face. "I...was punished." The last word came out in a choked whisper, as River looked up at her brother again, only to see his own eyes moist, tear tracks on his face. "They...beat me, and blindfolded me and shackled me to a metal exam table..." The girl's voice was barely a whisper as she continued, "They whipped me...and then they used metal to rape me." She kept her eyes on Simon. "I passed out from the pain finally."

Simon took a deep breath and visibly reined in his emotions, wiping his face and eyes of his tears, "And you didn't tell me this earlier because you didn't want to burden me with it." He looked at Riddick, "And this happened to her before you met her. Was she afraid of you at first?"

"Yeah, had to tackle her, full body contact," Riddick nodded, his hand rubbing River's shoulder soothingly. "The animal recognized her right away, an' that scared her 'til she figured out I weren't gonna do anythin' she didn't want."

"Richard was..." River took a deep breath, "Invaluable in showing me that not all men are uncontrolled. Made me feel safe, as if his body was made to protect me, not hurt me. My...animal...it took me time to understand how to use my instincts and my intelligence together, to listen to the animal. But when I did, I realized my animal recognized Richard as his had me."

"But surely...the physical reactions, men can't always control..." Simon spread his hands helplessly, "That doesn't upset you? Scare you?"

"Maybe if it had been a man holding me down, raping me, it might," River said thoughtfully. "But even though Richard's body might react to mine, Richard proved to me over two years that he would never do anything about the physical desire. Not even when I started wanting him to do something." She looked up at her partner and future lover, "I feel the safest when I'm in bed with him, wrapped in his arms, or when he's rolled so he's practically on top of me, pressing me to the bed." She raised Riddick's hand to her lips and kissed it adoringly. "It feels as if he's putting himself between me and anything that would harm me."

"Its the way I feel best too, but its also one a the things Inara's helpin' us with," Riddick explained quietly. "We both got things we need to work on. My animal's instinct is to protect my mate, to shield her, but that ain't always good for her. So I gotta learn when to let her be strong, like when we was doin' therapy on her leg."

Simon nodded his understanding, "Are you having the panic attacks any other time?" He asked quietly.

"Almost when I...heard the Reavers and Richard wasn't here," River said quietly. "But I listened for him and began to breathe along with his heartbeat." She looked at Simon, "I am slightly unstable, but I'm not uncontrolled."

"Do you want anything to help with the attacks?" Simon tilted his head, "Or would you like the attacks to be deliberately provoked so you know how to get through them more easily?"

"Any smoother you could give me would be absorbed by my system too quickly to be of much use," River smiled her thanks. "I would like more practice in dealing with the panic attacks. It would be useful to be able to avoid them or at least function better when I'm having them."

"Can you explain those times when you begin babbling nonsense?" Simon asked gently, "I've never known you to be insensible River, but you sometimes act as if you aren't seeing what's around you, as if you're somewhere else, reacting to something else."

"That's 'cause she is," Riddick's dark coffee voice was still quiet. "You know she's a Reader Doc," He looked at Simon, "You've known that since we were on planet. She hears the dead, hears Reavers, an' thoughts of the folks around her." He kissed River's hair.

"You know that I was always intuitive," River said softly, "I would get insights, flashes, now I get them and they're more clear, easier for me to understand, though not always. Much of my 'nonsense' is when I'm seeing something that hasn't happened yet, something that doesn't make sense to me."

"All right," Simon's voice was thoughtful and slow as he considered what he was being told. "I am sorry if I've made things more difficult. I didn't realize everything you hear... I'm still trying to absorb everything that's happened and now and then its hard to suddenly see everything and how you've changed."

Riddick chuckled a little bit and shrugged slightly, "Might be you're just not seein' all the stuff that's the same." He suggested. "You should take a look at her sketchbook sometime."

"Haven't had time to dance much," River said softly. "But that doesn't mean I don't still love it." She leaned against Riddick and regarded her brother with thoughtful eyes. "I have secrets Simon, things that even Richard doesn't know, because... I just can't bear to think about them. Things that make me...afraid and crazy and hurt to think about."

"Things that were done to you?" Simon asked with a frown of concern. "River if there's anything that can be done medically to help you I'll need to do an exam." He sighed, "I know it seems as if I think medicine is the answer to everything, but how can I know how to help you if I'm not even allowed to try."

"Not done to me," River shook her head. "Things that I saw." She rose from Riddick's side and went to perch on the arm of Simon's chair. "Medically, I don't know if anything can be done for me Simon. They did surgery on my brain, I have the scars to prove it. I don't think it can be reversed, and drugs...don't react well with my system anymore."

"Will you at least let me do an exam," Simon asked quietly. "We'd need to be in the infirmary but Rick could be there the whole time, I'd make sure we stopped anytime you became afraid. If nothing else, I need a catalog of your prior injuries."

Riddick sighed reluctantly, "River, much as I hate the idea, he's right. He should do a full workup on both a us. Somethin' happens an' he ain't familiar? I got lucky with Dobson's bullet. Ain't any tellin' what'll happen next."

"Yes," River nodded slowly. "The logic is plain, uncomfortable but plain." She kissed Simon's cheek. "Let me put on one of my old dresses, you'll need me in something loose."

"No, what you're wearing is fine," Simon shook his head. "I have no intention of...examining you internally River," He continued with a blush. "Let's table this for a little while, have some breakfast and you two can relax. We'll deal with it afterwards."

Riddick looked at River, "How'd you feel 'bout that Qīng Xiāng?"

"Rather get it done, get it over with, eat afterwards when there is no threat of rebellion from my stomach." River said promptly. "Won't be able to eat anyway."

"Then we'll get it done as quickly as possible," Simon rose purposefully. "You two just relax on the couch, I'll get the infirmary ready so you can spend as little time as possible in it." He picked up a folded quilt from the bottom of his bed and left the room.

River smiled at her partner and stood, waiting for him to rise and wrap her up in his arms before she spoke. "He goes to put something soft so that the exam table won't remind me of the academy."

"Yeah, Doc ain't stupid," Riddick nodded. He lifted her in his arms and kissed her almost delicately, "Want me to go first? Or you feel like gettin' it over with?"

"Get it over with," River returned with a kiss of her own in return. "Appreciate that you are willing to wait for her."

"Hmmm..." Riddick let himself sink into River's mouth, soft and sweet, the salt of her sweat intensifying every other note in her scent. Her lips were warm and eager under his, her body wrapped in his arms and pressed to his chest. Her tongue flickered out and teased over his lips until he groaned against her.

River shivered in delight as Riddick let her play the aggressor, parting his lips to her tongue so she could suck and tease his tongue and lips until she was moaning her passion into his mouth. "Richard is... he feels so good against her," She whispered into his mouth. "He is pleased with her progress?"

"Keep tellin' ya River," Riddick rubbed his mouth over hers before tasting the skin of her jaw and throat, the softness below her ear, "Love you, wait as long as you need. Can't stand you to be afraid when I touch you. Catch that scent an' I wanna kill someone. Ain't your fault. Ain't mine. Fault a them as tortured an' raped you." He slid his hand down to rub the small of her back, "We're gonna beat 'em though. You an' me an' Inara an' Simon, we ain't gonna lie down for them."

"No, you're right," River's smile was blinding. "And I am getting better," She wiggled against Riddick, loving how his solid body felt pressed to hers. "Sometimes wish I could seduce you, or get drunk so the animal could take over, so I wouldn't be afraid. But I know that wouldn't..."

"Yeah, I know," Riddick smiled as he pressed a kiss to her jugular. "C'mon, let's get this done. We can shower afterwards, an' then we can eat."

River nodded her agreement and slid down Riddick's body as he relaxed his arms around her. Somehow as he led her from Simon's room to the infirmary his fingers threaded into hers so their palms pressed together. The doorway to the infirmary was almost painfully bright but she nodded and walked through.

Author's Note: So I figured that there was no way Simon was handling everything perfectly, he's bound to goof up once in a while and I wanted to show that it isn't because he doesn't believe in his sister or trust Riddick. This is what happens when you hide things in the hopes of sparing someone, misunderstandings happen. I think Simon will be a lot more consistent in his behavior now, though he'll still have flashes of idiocy I'm hoping those will be more because he's out of his element culturally. He's not doing bad though. At least not yet.

So what do all of you think? Is this going the way you'd hoped? Anything you'd like to see happen? I make no promises but some of you have been waiting for Mal to meet the real Riddick. That'll probably happen during 'Safe' and I think you'll be...mildly pleased. I hope. We'll also find out more about Jayne and Riddick's past in that episode. But things are progressing for Bushwacked and Shindig and I'm feeling decently confident about them. It's not all smooth sailing but we will be seeing Shazza again.

Chinese Translations:

bǎo bèi (darling/honey)

Qīng Xiāng (Sweet Scent)

liàn rén (lover/sweetheart)

Quote Sources:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. - Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. - Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen

We all go a little mad sometimes - Scream