Author's Note: Ahoy, there be lemons ahead.

16) The Only Thing That's Real

River looked at Inara as the Companion drank her tea, "You are thinking Richard and I should come to your shuttle." She said softly, "Time to push the boundaries again?"

"Yes River, as usual, you've ascertained my intent," Inara shook her head in rueful amusement. "I have something I'd like for the two of you to try."

Riddick frowned thoughtfully at the woman and tilted his head, "The rest of 'em won't be wonderin' what's goin' on?"

"I believe it is somewhat common knowledge that the three of us have regular appointments, but the nature of them is private," Inara smiled a bit smugly. "Since I do not service crew the assumption seems to be that I am teaching you things River cannot."

"But they ain't asked you," Riddick found that hard to believe, as caring as the crew was, they were a gossipy bunch. That was one of the reasons Cobh had cultivated his mercenary attitude, so that no one would get in his business, just assume the worst of him.

"Of course they have, and I just smile and don't say a thing," Inara rose from her seat and regarded the two of them, "Come with me, both of you."

Riddick glanced at River and she nodded slowly her eyes thoughtful, "This will be good for us. Inara doesn't judge, doesn't see me as a child the way the Captain does."

"You say so Qīng Xiāng," Riddick rose from his seat and extended a hand to River, helping her rise. He knew if anybody saw him they'd gape but there was a part of him that took a great deal of pleasure in treating River in a proper manner.

River giggled a bit as she was helped to stand and kissed his cheek, "Richard enjoys employing the different parts of his character and confounding those who believe they know him. Vast and contains multitudes."

"That I do," Riddick tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow a smile cutting across his dark face.

Inara's shuttle was as welcoming as it ever was, Riddick always found himself looking around enjoying the beauty of the space. "Was thinkin', I don't make a lotta coin workin' for Mal, but iffen you needed muscle or protection when you're out an' about, I'm sure River wouldn't mind me helpin' you out." He looked at River and then at Inara spreading his hands, "Sorry, just occurred to me that we ain't offered to pay you for your time an' a Companion's time is valuable."

"My payment is in the pleasure of your company and our conversations, as well as being able to help heal you both," Inara smiled her gratitude. "It is part of every Companion's sacred duty, to help heal those who have been traumatized by an act that should be only for pleasure or comfort." Her smile tilted mischievously, "Besides, River has offered to help me look for investments. I think that is worth a great deal, though a strong arm would be appreciated when I need to do some shopping."

"Then you got one, just say when," Riddick nodded politely. He watched River as she drifted about the room, touching the draperies and silks, a smile touching her lips. "So what was it you were wantin' us to do?"

"I had the idea for an experiment," Inara gestured for him to take a seat. "The two of you tell me you're doing well with your homework. But not being in your bunk I'm not able to see where you're instinctively avoiding your problems." She gestured to the bed. "I'd like for the two of you to attempt intimacy here, with me observing if that isn't entirely contrary to your nature."

River tilted her head in that considering way she had and regarded Inara and then switched to Riddick, "What does my mate think?" She asked quietly.

"I think if Inara was a man I'd be a lot less comfortable with the idea," Riddick shrugged. "As it is, only thing I care 'bout is you Qīng Xiāng. If you're okay with it so'm I."

"I would like to try," River nodded slowly. "Inara won't hurt us."

"Then I will stay here, and the two of you make yourselves comfortable on the bed," Inara said quietly taking a seat opposite the bed. "I encourage you to forget I'm here."

"No 'fense Miss Inara, but that ain't possible," Riddick shook his head as he pulled off his shirt and unbuckled his belt. River was pulling off her clothing and his eyes were drawn to all of that white skin. "But we'll try to act like you ain't 'round if that's what you want." River had pulled off the last of her clothing and he groaned, pulling off his boots and shucking his pants and shorts.

River watched as Riddick yanked off his goggles and his silver eyes gleamed with need as he took in her bare body. She didn't know how he did it, but that look made her heart pound every time, made her want him to pin her to the bed and take what he needed. "Richard is too far away," She sat on the edge of the bed until he came closer to her and knelt in front of her, within reach of her hands. "So handsome," She whispered what she was thinking since he couldn't read her the way she could him. Her fingers traced the edges of his scars before she bent forward and put her mouth on his shoulder, kissing the remains of the love bite she'd given him.

"River," Riddick was painfully aroused just from her touch, her lips made him feel like he could fall any second. "We ain't gotten so far with this that I can..." He groaned as her fingers touched his face and she kissed him. She tasted like apples and tea, smelled like honey and caramel, felt so good, her lips on his like she was infusing his body with fire. "Zhēn 'ài better get up on the bed 'fore the animal takes over, an' I scare ya." He suggested finally, burying his mouth in her hair.

"You never scare me," River's voice was breathy with sensation. "Please, Richard, need you." She shuddered with the feelings he was waking in her again.

"All right then," Riddick took a deep breath, "You get comfortable then, an' you let me know when you're ready." He watched her with hot eyes from the foot of the bed as she lay down on her back and put her wrists over her head, sliding them beneath a pillow. She shivered as she spread her thighs for him, fear not even a thought in her mind as she felt his eyes on her skin, sliding up her legs to her eyes. He was breathing in her scent, she could feel how much he desired her every time he saw her, and that was more reassuring than anything else could be.

"Want your hands on me please Richard," River said finally, her breath catching in her throat as his silver eyes seemed to glow with his need for her. "Want your hands and your mouth, need you."

Riddick groaned audibly as River squirmed on the bed, honey drifting towards him on the air as she waited for him to join her. Slowly so as not to startle her he took his place beside her on the bed and set his hand on her waist before kissing her deeply. "So beautiful River," He murmured. "How're you doin'?"

"Want your mouth and hands," River moaned, his kiss was like fire, his big hand on her waist a tease with its heat and strength. "Touch please Richard, my shuài láng, want your hands on me."

"Hmm..." Riddick kept his legs and upper body from pressing down on River, ignoring the animal's howl to cover her body with his and possess her completely. "You tell me when to stop," He reminded her, as he slid his hand up to her breast and covered it with his hand, a groan of need vibrating through him at the feel of her tight nipple under his palm and her soft flesh swollen with need.

River moaned as he kissed her again, one hand rubbing and teasing her breasts, moving between the two of them as his mouth dwelt almost lazily over hers, his kisses nibbling and stroking her lips, his tormenting her with tiny taunting darts between her lips until he groaned into her mouth. She felt when he was close to losing control, when the animal overruled the man momentarily, his mouth plundering hers, need rising violently in them both. "Richard please, want to touch you," She gasped the words out. "Want you, your lips, your hands..."

Riddick nearly growled into her mouth with the need for her hands on his body, "You touch then liàn rén. You know I'm yours, you do what you like with me." He shuddered as her hands moved from beneath the pillow, one to touch his face, the other sliding down to cup his balls and carefully grasp his jī ba . "Gods River," He kissed her again before moving his lips down to her breasts.

River felt the heat of his lips on her nipple like a bolt of fire to her core, and cried out at the shock of pleasure. "Oh, ohhh...Richard," She panted his name as the hand that had been teasing her breasts slid down to cup her mound. "Soo..."

Riddick shuddered as her fingers wrapped around his cock and began to move slowly and torturously up and down. She'd gotten to know his body just as he had hers and knew he didn't want to fall without her. If he thought he was going to he'd pull away from her before he'd let it happen. She was hot and wet against his palm and he groaned against her breast at the feel of her. Carefully he rubbed the heel of his hand against her yīn dì hidden within her folds and felt the shudder travel through her body. "Want to put my fingers in you River," He murmured against her skin. "You ready for that?"

"Yes, yes please Richard," River moved her thighs farther apart in encouragement and was immediately rewarded as Riddick pushed two of his thick fingers up into her sheath. She couldn't help the moaning shriek of satisfaction that burst from her lips over the pleasure of being filled and cried out again as his thumb found her clit and rubbed it gently. His body was still held away from hers, his legs and hips kept from touching her skin. "Please fuck me with your fingers my láng, please, need you."

She felt so good, her honey slick and sweet as his fingers began to move in and out of her body, finding that little spot deep inside her and making sure he touched it each time, loving how she gave off tiny convulsions of pleasure when he did. "You feel so good River," Riddick muttered against her flesh. "So soft and warm and tight around my hand zhēn 'ài ." He groaned as her fingers tightened around him, "Wanna feel you fall River."

River moaned and bucked up to his hand steadily moving in hand out of her sheath, "Please, Richard Riddick, want you to..." She shuddered and cried out as tiny shocks swept over her skin, precursors to the explosion of pleasure. "Zhī yīn please, together..."

Riddick felt his body instinctively matching hers, "River, I," He groaned the words and shuddered as her hand pumped his cock, pushing him closer to the edge. "I gotta..."

"Yes please," River had barely gotten the words out before one of his legs tangled with hers, their hips touching even if he wasn't pressing her to the bed. The heat that radiated off of him sent pleasure spiraling through her and she screamed as his fingers thrust her over the edge and headlong into her fall. Sobbing and moaning in ecstasy she bucked up to his hand and felt his mouth release her breast finding her lips and moaning into her mouth. "Now you, Richard, you fall for me," She begged against his lips.

"So close River, so..." Riddick groaned, "Can you again, let me feel you come apart again? Let me see you?" He looked down at her body, flushed and frantic with her pleasure and felt his fall creeping up on him in spite of his desires. His fingers thrust hard into her, his thumb firm on her clit in the way he knew she loved and he felt her shudder and draw tight around his moving fingers. "That's it," He groaned into her mouth, kissing her hard and frantic, "So sweet and tight, love to feel you like this, love you River," He shuddered as he felt his fall rising through his body. "River, gorram, soo... River," He nearly shouted at the pleasure of his fall as his body rebelled against his control and his seed jetted out, hitting the soft skin of River's belly and thigh.

River moaned into her mates mouth as she felt him fall and gentled her hand on him even as her body strove for completion, her hips meeting the thrusts of his fingers desperately. She couldn't stop moaning, his need to see her fall was stronger than his own need for pleasure. "Richard, love my...Richard," She shuddered hard around his hand and felt the moment he knew what she needed, the hand he'd threaded into her hair, slid under her back and around her body, his palm pressing down on her breast in another burst of heat that sent her over the edge.

He groaned into her mouth at the feel of her and knew she needed something else to push her over that final precipice, some added pleasure to shock her body into feeling everything all over again. Her breast under his palm had him grinding his cock against her hip and her fingers tightening around him, pulling him to another fall even as she neared hers. He kissed her hard, thinking firmly about how she was his, and he was hers, their bodies belonged to each other even as their hearts did, until he felt her body surrender to pleasure again, her fall like a storm blazing through her, and his through him in near painful ecstasy.

River shrieked into his mouth as her fall exploded through her body, feeling Richard's body find his pleasure as she did hers, his shout echoing in her ears. "Oh," She whispered, looking down at their bodies, still fairly separated, "I..." She kissed him adoringly, "You are so patient with me Richard."

"Ain't patience," Riddick let his body roll towards hers, tugging her up onto her side so that they were pressed together as he eased his fingers out of her and licked them clean. "Told ya, River." He nuzzled her neck and shoulder, "Don't care 'bout my fall iffen you ain't had yours. Don't wanna be inside you 'til that's what you want too." He caught a new scent in the air and stifled his amusement. Inara would probably not care for the fact that he, and thus River, were aware that their love play had aroused her. She'd made such a point of attempting a therapeutic distance it wouldn't be kind to let her know. River nodded in response to his thought and sighed against him. "Richard is very messy," She observed with a smile in her voice.

"Yeah well, someone tol' me once that iffen it were polite ya probably weren't doin' it right," Riddick chuckled. "But damn if you ain't the prettiest woman in the 'Verse." He slid his hand down her back and kissed her again, "Gotta say, might have to see about getting a bigger bed for our bunk, kinda nice to cuddle with you an' not worry 'bout hitting the floor."

River giggled at him and kissed him lightly on the lips, "Should use the head," She sighed before she kissed him again and his hands loosened on her. "Wish I could..."

"What?" Riddick tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Wish you could what River?"

"Want to perform kǒu yín on you," River confessed. "Not sure if you'd want to kiss me after though."

"Well I always wanna kiss you River," Riddick proved it by kissing her again. "Right after you done that with me, might ask you to have some water, rinse the taste away. That ain't a taste or smell I like on a woman's breath. But if you wanna all I ask is a chance to return the favor. An' I'll do the same, rinse my mouth or whatever you like so's your comfortable kissin' me after."

"I don't mind my taste on you," River smiled as she began to rise from the bed. "Wasn't sure how you felt about yours on me."

Riddick watched as she disappeared into the head. Absently he began to pick up their clothes and straighten them out, meeting Inara's gaze as he did. "So how'd we do?" He asked with a half-smile. "Gotta give you credit, you made ignorin' ya easy."

Inara smiled slightly and nodded her thanks, "I've a bowl and a sponge if you and River would like a quick wash."

"Think we'd appreciate that," Riddick smiled as River emerged and Inara rose from her seat to fetch the bowl and fill it with water. Placing it on the table she moved towards her tiny hotspot and began to make tea. Riddick picked up the sponge and squeezed most of the water from it before he knelt in front of River and began tenderly washing her.

River smiled happily as Riddick concentrated on cleaning her up, he was always so tender with her, careful and gentle, no one would ever guess at this side of him, or seeing only this side, believe he could be so violent in his affections. Taking the sponge away from him she began to do the same with his body, smiling over how quickly his desire for her and her touch affected him physically. His control was as impressive as his stamina though, and he simply stood, stoic until his blood cooled again. Afterward though, watching her dress, Riddick made no attempt to hide his thoughts and how much he wanted her, to sit in a big tub and bathe each other after they'd gotten each other sweaty and messy.

Inara regarded the two of them thoughtfully and poured them the tea before she spoke, "I'd be interested to hear what it is that the two of you believe you have trouble with," She said finally, "Before I give you my opinion."

"Can't fall unless Richard is closer to me, need his flesh touching mine somehow," River murmured. "Even just his leg pressed against mine."

"Dunno if it's a problem or not, but less River falls, I just don' wanna," Riddick shook his head. "Animal wants to take over sometimes an' have her but even the animal don' wanna fall 'thout River."

"All right," Inara smiled, "And oddly enough, neither of these things are cause for any major concern."

"What do you find is somethin' to worry on," Riddick asked knowing there had to be something.

"I find it interesting that River hasn't attempted to assume a more dominant role," Inara said gently. "River, you don't touch yourself at all, you don't touch Rick unless you've asked him for permission."

"Oh, that," Rick chuckled and shook his head, "River maybe you'd better explain."

River nodded, a sweet smile on her lips, "Very conscious of how much Richard keeps control of his animal nature. How difficult being close to me and pleasuring me is for him and still allow him to maintain that control." She leaned against her partner and rubbed her head lazily over his shoulder. "Asking for things, asking to touch or to be touched…I used to be embarrassed about my desires, my need for him. Richard wants me to ask for what I need so I know there is nothing to be embarrassed about. So that I understand I should enjoy my body and his."

"River's beautiful," Riddick's dark coffee voice was gentle as he stroked his woman's hair. "Want her to have control over what happens, so I told her to tell me what she needs, when she needs it, so's I wouldn't go too fast, do something that would hurt her or scare her." He smiled as he looked at River, "Might look like I'm in charge but she calls the shots."

"Well that is…actually a very healthy attitude and a good way to get used to your desires," Inara nodded. "I'm curious though, you've never wanted to be on top of Rick?"

"Oh yes," River nodded. "Very much." She slid a glance at Riddick feeling the wave of lust that washed over him at the thought of River riding him, taking her pleasure. "Just couldn't think of a way that it would pleasure us both."

"Without it being overly tempting?" Inara surmised with a smile, "Do you worry that he will overwhelm you?"

"No," River smiled, "Richard might be larger than I am, but I trust him. I know he'd never use his strength to harm me." She looked up at her mate, "Fantasize about Richard tying me down to a bed and torturing me with pleasure, let him do whatever he likes with my body."

"Would you like to do the same thing with him?" Inara wanted to know, her dark eyes thoughtful.

"Might be the only way to perform kǒu yín on Richard without his animal going mad," River giggled up at Riddick's somewhat shocked face.

"You wanna tie me to a bed an' have your way with me?" He blinked in surprise, inhaling her scent and noticing there was nothing that indicated a lack of truth, blood, steel, silk, all the base notes of her scent along with a lingering scent of honey and caramel.

"Never mentioned it because I know how you hate chains," River's mouth curved in a smile. "Thought it might help me though, to be completely helpless but safe with you."

"On that note," Inara smiled, "If the two of you think you're ready for the next step, I bought something for you River." She fetched a wooden box and handed it to River.

River blinked and set the box on her lap before cautiously opening the lid. Peeking inside she blushed and shut the lid before taking a deep breath and opening it fully so Riddick could see it.

Riddick blinked, it was an oblong object in lurid turquoise with sparkly bits inside. It was clearly electrical, he could see a switch and a cord and controller, it smelled like soft plasti and was shaped remarkably like... He blinked again and looked at River and then at Inara. "Tryin' ta make me jealous?" He asked humorously.

Inara looked at River and giggled, the younger girl blinked in surprise and Riddick felt the moment humor overtook the sugar scent of embarrassment, "Not as impressive as your lover," Inara admitted, "But you wouldn't want a toy exactly like him. When the two of you finally join it should be new to the both of you."

"So what's our homework with this?" Riddick asked since River was still a bit surprised by the entire gift.

"I want River to use it on herself, bring herself to orgasm, by herself or with you watching," Inara explained. "It's important for a woman to take responsibility for her own pleasure, regardless of her lover's skill in bringing her fall. It's a healthy step, self-exploration, a toy is a natural progression and something River should have."

Riddick nodded seriously, Inara had very firm ideas about everyone being honest about what they liked, what they needed. "And what do you want me to do?" He tucked a strand of hair behind River's ear, smiling as she blushed over his thoughts of her pleasuring herself.

"Help her," Inara said quietly. "The first time you may need to press her to use it. You'll have to refuse her your fingers so she uses the toy." She looked directly at River, "Your subconscious needs to understand that not everything feels bad if it isn't a person. Toys are made for women to enhance their enjoyment. This has several settings and speeds so you can experiment if you like. But unless you aren't feeling well, I expect you to use this at least once a day, employment permitting."

Riddick let his hand soothe River's nervous shiver, "Hey, I'll be right there, an' this ain't metal, it's made for you." He closed the lid of the box and put her hand on it. "But it is yours, an' it'll help you River. I ain't turquoise an' sparkly, but sooner or later, you're gonna want me inside you liàn rén an' your toy'll help you stretch some, get ready for that."

River nodded and opened the lid to look at the toy again, "Thank you Inara," She said automatically her innate manners kicking in belatedly. "I... I am grateful if...a bit intimidated."

"I recalled you mentioned Rick using his hands on you, inside you, so I made certain it wasn't wider than two of his fingers," Inara smiled slightly. "I'll let you go put that away. But you both are doing very well."

Riddick nodded and rubbed River's shoulders, "Think the rest of the crew is having a hoopball game in the bay, wanna put that away and watch?"

"Yes please," River nodded thoughtfully.

The Companion smiled, "That does sound like fun," She looked at River. "Something relaxing, without pressures."

River nodded again, her gaze far away, "Before the storm comes."

When they emerged onto the catwalks Simon was standing with Inara watching the hoopball game. River grinned as she saw Jayne and Wash getting along, the two of them teaming up to outsmart Mal and Zoe. Zoe apparently scored and then Kaylee got the ball and got on Jayne's shoulders to score for their team. Riddick beside her on the catwalk was grinning down at his friend and she could feel his amusement in the solemn Zoe competing so chaotically in such a disorganized game.

Inara and Simon were talking, watching the game and trying to figure out who was winning, the rules were so uncivilized as to be unintelligible to spectators. Inara was asking how Simon was, was he adjusting to ship life. River grinned slightly; it was good for her proper organized brother to learn to bend a little bit. Tugging Riddick over towards Inara and Simon she slipped her hand into her brothers and was rewarded with his most affectionate smile.

Riddick cursed as a loud alarm sounded, his ears ringing until the annoying blare ceased. Zoe commented that it was the proximity alert. Her husband with his typical comedic timing cried out in alarm, "Oh my god. What can it be? We're all doomed! Who's flying this thing?" He paused and shook his head, his voice deadpan, "Oh right, that would be me. Back to work." He took off up the stairs and Riddick looked at River quizzically.

River nodded slowly her eyes on the retreating pilot, "Should be with him. Nothing good will come of this."

Riddick swore under his breath as River began to walk quickly towards the bridge. As they were leaving she heard Kaylee exhorting Simon to come and play with them.

Thanks to their quick pace the two of them arrived on the bridge just as Wash did. Riddick moved to take his place just as Wash sat down and a human body bumped into the window. Wash's startled cry of "Yah!" echoed through the cockpit even as he bumped into the flight controls making the entire ship shudder until Riddick grabbed them to calm the ship back down. River frowned as she bumped into the wall and moved to the relative safety of the space behind Riddick's chair. No sooner had she done so than Mal and Zoe entered the cockpit.

"Wash, you have a stroke or something?" Mal asked half in concern half jest.

Wash shook his head, "Near enough."

Riddick nodded his agreement as he squinted at the rotating ship in view out the windows, "Not exactly your regular happenstance is it." He felt River's hand on his shoulder and inhaled, she was worried, this could go bad very quickly.

"What happened?" Zoe asked, her eyes on the slowly spinning ship. Before anyone could answer her the rest of the crew entered the bridge, Simon and Inara among them.

Jayne blew out a breath, "Wǒ de mā."

"Anybody home?" Mal wanted to know, his gaze still on the constantly spinning ship.

Wash shook his head, "Been hailing her, but if whoever's there is as healthy as the guy we just ran over, can't imagine anyone's going to be picking up."

Riddick nodded his agreement, "Anybody were able they'd be out tryin' to repair the boat."

"Bring us in a little closer," Mal ordered his gaze alert.

Wash nodded his hands dancing over the instruments, "Get you close enough to ring the doorbell."

Simon's voice was appalled and amazed from the back of the group, "What is it?"

River shuddered and whispered loud enough for Riddick to hear if no one else, "Its ghosts."

Riddick was vividly aware of River standing behind him, one white hand on his bare bicep. Her fingers were cold and she smelt of worry. She was staring at the rotating ship as if it was a puzzle to be solved and he could practically hear her mind clicking away as to what had happened to it. "Don't have to think," She whispered into his ear. "Reavers were here, they did this...and there are snakes that wait to sink in their fangs."

"Snakes huh?" Riddick frowned and then Mal was talking and he had to pay attention in case Wash did something tricky he had to match.

"So, what do we figure?" Mal asked thoughtfully, "Transport ship?"

Wash nodded, studying the ship, "Converted cargo hauler, maybe a short-range scow."

Kaylee pointed at a particular area of the ship, "You can see she don't want to be parked like that. The port thrust's gone, that's what's making her spin the way she is."

"A short range vessel," Simon asked, his quiet voice concerned, "This far out in space?"

"Retrofitted to carry passengers," Wash gave Simon the shorthand version.

Zoe elaborated, "Travelers pick them up cheap at government auction. A few modifications and they serve well enough for a one-way push to the outer planets."

"Settlers," Book said quietly.

Wash nodded, "Cram fifteen, maybe twenty families on a boat that size, you pack 'em in tight enough."

"Families?" Inara's lovely voice was stricken.

Cobh spoke up with his usual grisly cheer, "Tell you what I think. I think that fellow we ran into did everyone on board, killed them all, then decided to take a swim through space, see how fast his blood would boil out of his ears." Riddick chuckled hearing his old friend's sarcasm even if no one else had. River smelt briefly of tequila as she giggled silently behind him.

No one else got it, though Wash did address the remark with his usual humor, "You're a very 'up' person."

"Shouldn't we report this?" Book asked folding his arms.

"To who? Alliance?" Mal nearly rolled his eyes, "Right. They're going to run out here lickety-split and make sure these taxpayers are okay."

"Then we'll have to," Book retorted.

Riddick raised his hand, "As one a the wanted fugitives on board I vote no on callin' the Feds." He said dryly. "Ain't anxious to examine the inside of a cell again nor lose my woman to their greedy paws." He tossed a glance over his shoulder, "Don't 'spect they'd treat the Doc too well either."

"Thanks Rick," Simon's voice was dry as dust.

Jayne brought up a valid point, "If there's folks on board in need of help, why ain't they beaming no distress call?"

"It's true," Zoe looked over the instrument panel, "There's no beacon."

"Cain't hear anythin'," Riddick put in.

"Which means it's likely no one's looking to find her," Mal said thoughtfully.

"All the more reason for us to do the right thing," The shepherd added staunchly.

"How about you just say a prayer when we slide on by," Jayne suggested in a deliberately rude tone.

"Shall I remind you of the story of the Good Samaritan?" Book was getting a stubborn set to his jaw.

The captain shook his head, "I'd rather you didn't. But we'll check it out. See if there are survivors. If not, then, well no one's going to mind if we take a look around, see if there's not something of value they might have left behind."

Riddick chuckled openly as Cobh's mind appeared to be radically changed, "Yeah, no, uh, someone could be hurt." The bigger man said excitedly.

River's hand squeezed Riddick's shoulder, "Don't dock, the snakes are waiting." Her voice was urgent though quiet. "Wash don't dock," She said frantically.

"Belay that," Mal ordered, "We're right here, we ain't sailin' away."

River turned furious eyes on Mal as Serenity linked to the derelict. "The snakes have us now," She snarled in an excellent imitation of her partner. "Their fangs are sunk in deep."

Mal did a masterful job of ignoring River's infuriated words, turning to issue orders to Zoe and Jayne.

Riddick spun the chair around so he could look at River and tugged her into his lap, "Qīng Xiāng can you tell me? With less metaphor?"

She shook her head against his shoulder, "Words won't come out. They won't lie down, they trap and lie in wait but they never stop screaming. They make everyone around them afraid and it's all so loud." Her whisper trembled against the skin of his neck and Riddick looked up at Mal with narrowed eyes.

"How long you figure you'll be over there?" He rubbed his hand up River's back, "River ain't talkin' nonsense."

"Well we'll see won't we," Mal shrugged. "Ain't a lotta snakes in the Black."

"Yeah well River tends to use a lot of metaphor," Riddick shrugged that off. "Don't mean she's wrong."

"Don't mean she's right either," Mal shrugged, "Figure on Zoe an' me'll head over, need to suit up for it. Shouldn't take long to figure out what's what."

"Yeah," Riddick nodded, his hand still stroking up and down River's back. "Well you go on over an' figure it out, River an' me, we already know."

Mal gave him an exasperated look before he left the bridge and Wash waited until his Captain had left before he turned to regard Riddick and River. "So what did happen?"

Riddick shook his head, "River talks 'bout screamin', 'bout people that won't lie down, that means Reavers." He kissed River's forehead. "When you hear everything, ain't hard to hear folks screamin' even after they're dead."

"That's...not a comfortable thought," Wash said slowly, his gaze thoughtful as it moved from Riddick's eyes to the still rotating ship.

"Not a comfortable ability," River spoke from within her partner's arms. "Richard is the only one who understands what I hear." She sighed slightly, "The snakes have us now, not easy to dislodge their fangs."

"Yeah can you elaborate on that?" Wash was busily working the instrument panel

"Reaver's is known to leave traps behind," Riddick said shortly. "River has a certain...talent that helps her figure out what they've done. Snakes... ain't a good sign."

"River?" Wash looked at the diminutive girl, "You see anything else 'round that'll cause trouble?"

"She hears too much to determine if any one voice will cause problems," River murmured after a moment of thought. "We will scavenge and find treasure but it must be given up if we are to keep crew." She looked at Wash, "Captain must take the obvious valuables but others should take all they can find or this stop will be for nothing." She sighed, "Richard can explain her words."

Wash shook his head, "No, I think I got it." He flicked a few buttons. "Can you run some more scans?"

"She will look for more life signs, valuables, any other symptoms of trouble," River agreed.

Wash nodded and looked at Riddick, "You've got the ship. I'm gonna try to seed a few ideas with my wife. I'll send Jayne up for you to convince. He seems to listen to you."

Riddick nodded his understanding before shifting River off his lap into the chair so he could take Wash's seat. "Yeah, shared history'll do that." He slid into the pilot's chair and began to run his own diagnostics of Serenity.

It wasn't long until Jayne entered the cockpit, "Wash was sayin' 'bout you wantin' ta talk to me?" He threw himself into the third chair. "This got anything to do with the snakes?" The huge gunhand looked at River, "Just sayin' I don' care for how that sounds."

"The vipers have their fangs in us already," River shrugged. "She and Kaylee will be required to dislodge their teeth." She turned from the cortex and looked at Jayne, "Very important." Dark eyes regarded him solemnly, "Jayne must remember to take any and all valuables he finds. Captain will find a great treasure but we won't be allowed to keep it. Kaylee and Jayne will need to scavenge for items of smaller value that we may keep."

"You sayin' the Feds are gonna show up?" Riddick tilted his head thoughtfully, "That ain't good news." He commented with a shrug and looked at Jayne. "I can come over with ya, help ya carry things. I'm guessin' the more hands the better." He slanted a silver glance at River, "That set all right with you Qīng Xiāng?"

"She will be fine with Wash here," River agreed. "Will come over to show the Captain exactly where the bodies lie, he will take too long to find them elsewise." She tilted her head at the cortex. "Jayne and Richard should concentrate their searches in the crew quarters, Captain and Zoe will find the treasure." She looked at the two of them, "Once we leave we will not be able to return. We must take all we can before...before," River turned to stare at the slowly rotating ship her lips tilting downwards, "before the not dead ghost is found."

"That sounds sorta ominous," Jayne frowned. "Right, so any idea where we can find treasure of our own?"

River nodded slowly, "Passenger quarters... will find things of value." She tilted her head, "Kaylee and Simon will find things to repair Serenity, sadly no catalyzer but many other parts that will be helpful." She sighed and shook her head, "Wash returns. Time for work."

"All right," Jayne nodded, "Let's get to it then." He took a deep breath, visibly shrugging on his persona of the ruthless mercenary just as Wash entered the cabin. "Little man," Jayne nodded to the pilot as he stalked out.

"So how'd the chat go?" Wash gave Riddick and River a grin as the Furyan stood, vacating the pilot's chair.

"Well enough that I think Cobh an' me'll do all right getting valuables off the boat," Riddick nodded. "You?"

"Yeah, it went okay," Wash sighed. "Zoe tends to pay more attention to the captain's orders than to my ideas."

"Captain rules the ship," River said absently. "Zoe obeys orders. Only one she ever disobeyed from the Captain." The slender girl smiled at Wash, "First mate values her husband more highly than she does her Captain. Feels she must obey in order to make it up to him. Will always choose her husband over her oldest friend in matters of survival."

"As it should be," Riddick leaned over the back of River's chair and let his hand trail down River's long hair. "If the Captain's in her head, you're in her heart. Heart tends ta rule the head."

"Nice of you to say," Wash smiled slightly. "Just ain't easy playin' second fiddle."

"Long's you remember it's only playin'," Riddick advised. "Ain't like it's for real, you bein' second. Comes down to it that woman'd rather have you than her own life." He gave a one shouldered shrug when Wash blinked at him in astonishment, "River an' me, 'tween the two of us, ain't much we don't see. Could tell the minute I saw you two together, Zoe'd rather die than see you harmed. It was all over her when we was tellin' ya'll what happened to River an' me. She woulda put us off the boat the minute we looked like we'd send a hard look in your direction."

River nodded her agreement as she sent information from her cortex to Wash's screen, "Treasure for Mal and Zoe to find." She told him, "Wash does not play second fiddle. Plays first fiddle badly disguised as second." She tilted her head back to look up at Riddick, "Should start getting ready to go over with Jayne. Mal and Zoe already gone."

Riddick dropped a kiss on her forehead, "I'm going Qīng Xiāng, just wanted one last kiss."

Author's Note: So we've gotten into Bushwacked… How'm I doing? I wanted to show that Our two get along with certain members of the crew better than others. And this also sets up the slight change I'm making to the episode. It's not huge but it'll help the crew in the long run.

Just a quick question requiring feedback. How attached are all of you to the idea of a romance between Inara and Mal? With the knowledge we have now about Inara and her condition I'm thinking River and Riddick will figure it out soon. What I want to know is would you accept Mal in a romantic relationship (eventually) with someone else? Or are you all totally fixed on Inara and anything else is blasphemous?

Chinese Translations:

Qīng Xiāng - Sweet Scent

Zhēn 'ài - true love

shuài láng - handsome wolf

liàn rén - sweetheart/lover

jī ba - dick/penis

yīn dì - clitoris

láng - wolf

Zhī yīn - soul mate

kǒu yín - fellatio

Wǒ de mā - my mother/oh my god

Quote Sources:

No quotes in this chapter... I'm actually surprised. It's rare that I go without at least one. If I missed something please let me know and I'll edit.