20) I Broke Apart My Insides

Riddick tilted his head and looked at River who was pulling on a dress that hung on her slender frame, making her look even more waiflike. Her boots were a little too large and the only things that fit well were the knife sheaths and gun harness. Her cargo pants and teeshirt had long succumbed to the rigors of the engine room and the conduits beneath Serenity. "I'm thinkin' we use this stop to get you some clothes that fit better tiān shǐ . Inara should know at least one or two places; pretty sure she'd help you spend your money," He grinned as he thought of the small fortune River had stolen from Niska.

"Our money," River smiled her correction. "And you are right, Simon did his best but he erred on the side of caution and these clothes are not job appropriate." She tilted her head, "Richard should put clothing on, she is certain his current attire would be favored by any woman wishing death to come swiftly and bloodily but she is aware he does not wish to draw attention.

Riddick chuckled as he pulled his pants on over his shorts and jerked a shirt over his head. He'd been in a hurry when he'd bought his clothes so the shirt was a little snug but it kept any excess fabric from wrinkling and chafing under his gun harness. His shivs were secreted about his body, with River smiling the entire time. He wasn't sure why she his process of weaponing up so fascinating, but he could freely admit he loved watching her strap on her guns and knives. "Think the jacket is a good idea bǎo bǎo or too warm?"

River tilted her head and listened for a moment, "Wash thinks it is very bright, but the cortex says the winds are strong." She offered after a moment. "Richard will want his goggles but not his coat, will not like having the extra fabric. Would rather take a chill." She frowned at him, "Her mate will not become ill." She commanded mildly.

His chuckle was more of an acknowledgement than it was meant to mock, "Pretty sure that ain't under my purview darlin', but I'll do my best." Riddick regarded her thoughtfully, "You got your leggin's on under that dress? Iffen winds are strong don't want you takin' a chill or any pì yǎnr lookin' on your legs."

"Skin is concealed," River nodded solemnly. "Kaylee has lent her a jacket which will not fit properly but will keep the girl's arms from developing cutis anserina."

"Goosebumps," Riddick confirmed with a lifted eyebrow. "An' you can still get to your shivs and guns all right with it on?"

River pulled on the jacket and demonstrated, "Perfectly well." Aware of her mate's gaze upon her she lifted the hem of the baggy dress so it rose above her knees and showed him the leggings and the daggers stuck in the tops of her boots. She also had a gun strapped to her thigh.

"You are the sexiest woman alive," Riddick grinned at her thinking really hard that the only thing sexier would be her wearing nothing but her weapons. Her giggle and the wave of honey that hit his nose told him that she'd definitely read that thought.

"She will draw Richard a picture of what he desires," River grinned at him playfully. "But he will have to pose her."

"Not 'xactly a hardship, bǎo bǎo," Riddick grinned. "C'mon, I'm catchin' Inara's scent in the galley, guessin' she's ready to go."

Riddick looked at Inara a little dubiously, "This is the place you wanna get a drink at?"

River giggled, "Inara has heard that Jayne and Mal will play billiards here and wishes to watch the game." She tilted her head, "Richard will enjoy himself if we go in."

He looked at his newly outfitted woman in her tight denim pants and matching mandarin jacket, her guns and knives out on display along with her cute pì gu and mouthwatering legs. Her scent had tendrils of tequila and honey and when he met her eyes River winked. Riddick grinned, his girl knew there was only so long he could go before sparring didn't cut it anymore. He needed to fight someone who deserved a beating, someone River wouldn't weep over if they died. "Well did ya'll wanna drop the packages at the ship first? Don' wanna be loaded down an' if Mal an' Jayne are inside chances are there's none too honest folk around as well."

Inara looked at the packages and bags Riddick was carrying and he could tell she was debating the idea but finally nodded her agreement, "You're probably right, and it's not as if Serenity isn't close by."

Riddick inclined his head in as polite a gesture as he could manage and they continued on towards the ship.

River smiled happily as her Riddick crooked his arm so she could slip her hand in his elbow. It wouldn't do for him to bow and simper as so many core men did, but the polite gesture and invitation to touch him was far more comforting than a surplus of manners. Inara was on his other side, an elegant presence that drew as many eyes as the man between the two women. Mal looked up as they entered but apart from a brief frown didn't indicate he knew them in any way. Jayne on the other hand gave them a grin that River returned happily and she could feel the warmth in Riddick, pleasure that his old friend was pleased to see them however mild Jayne's reaction.

Inara turned so that she could see both of them and smiled, "Thank you both so much for the escort." She bent slightly and kissed River's cheek, "I especially enjoyed shopping with you mèi mei. We'll have to visit the skyplex and bring Kaylee with us. Maybe you and Zoe could be the muscle."

River grinned, "Let our men have manly times with billiards and tall card." She agreed and gave Inara the slight bow of gratitude her mother had taught her, "Your help was invaluable today. Thank you so much."

"It was a pleasure as your company always is," Inara's smile was almost too warm for a Companions. "I'm going to say hello to Mal and sit at the bar. You two have fun and don't worry about me."

River grinned wickedly and felt Riddick's animal rising to meet hers, "Inara may wish to be certain she is aware of all exits and entrances."

"Oh dear," Inara looked at Mal and nodded. "Trouble?"

"Always am," Riddick chuckled low and evil and Inara blinked and then nodded her understanding. River watched as she drifted over towards their captain and murmured something before taking a seat at the bar.

River slanted a glance up at her partner and grinned to see he was already looking down at her, "Shall we commence our fun?"

"Yeah, why don't we play with Cobh a little bit," Riddick let his arm wrap around her shoulders and guided her over to the pool table Mal and Jayne were using along with a couple of other fellas.

"Rick," Jayne grinned at him. "You an' Moonbrain here have fun with Inara?" His lascivious tone wasn't lost on his captain who glared at him.

"She is his Moon, but she is not moonbrained, nor buggy nor un-right in the head," River told Jayne with a solemn air belied by her dancing eyes. "Is Jayne enjoying the game?"

Riddick chuckled and shook his head at Mal, "Ain't no use being pissy 'bout a tiger's stripes Cap'n."

"Cap'n huh," One of the men at the table said with a chuckle, "You'll like hearin' bout our last job, maybe like to borrow it, make some money a yourn."

"Always like to earn ready cash," Mal had sent a cautious look over at Inara giving her a nod but turned his attention to the men.

"May she play?" River held out her hand for the pool cue, looking up at Jayne winsomely.

"Aww, c'mon, I ain't done nothin' to you," Jayne held onto the stick with a stubborn look in his eye.

"May she play the next one?" River's eyes darted from Jayne to her captain to her partner, "Please, if she is good and does not cause trouble?"

Riddick's low evil laugh at the last word was what clued Jayne into the possibilities, "Yeah, sure, uh, River, next game."

"She will watch closely then," River grinned and looked at the other two men. "They will not mind the girl watching from different angles? Wishes to have a full and all-encompassing view of the game."

"Wha?" One of the men blinked in confusion while the other one looked at the men who apparently knew the little girl, "What'd she say?"

"She wants to be able to move around the table and study how ya'll hold the cue an' take your shots, she's tryin' to learn to play better," Riddick supplied the explanation with a dark grin. "Just wants ta make sure that don't bother ya none."

"Oh," The man who'd been about to brag on his coin earning abilities nodded, "Don't guess we'll mind none. Pretty little thing, long's she don't mess up a shot or nothin'."

River held up her hand as if to swear in court, "Promise to not impede the play." That just got two sets of eyes going to Riddick again, three if you included Jayne's imitation of the men's stupidity.

"She swears she won't get in your way," Riddick shook his head with a chuckle, "Darlin', you just watch that the cue don't hit you in the stomach or nothin' when they're takin' their shots."

"She will abide," River nodded in the absent way that made Mal nervous and Jayne chuckle deep in his chest. Her big man was leaning against the wall near Jayne, waiting for her to start their own little game. Mal had no clue and Jayne had leaned back and muttered something to Riddick, to which her man had given a reply that made Jayne grin in a manner entirely too similar to the Furyan. But then this was Richard's sworn brother, he had some of Riddick's blood in him, had a touch of the animal.

Barely listening to the conversation she circled the table again, and then again, the second time her hand brushed past one of the men speaking, startling him. "Apologies," She looked up at him with a smile, "Did not mean to." She leaned in and tilted her head, "Will he hit two or three?"

"Just two I think, cain't be sure a the shot for the third," The rather grimy man replied with a grin showing off yellowing teeth.

"Show me please?" River tilted her head invitingly and was given a nod. A quick glance at Riddick to be certain he wouldn't object and the man's hands were holding hers to the cue, showing her how he lined up the shot. "Needs much skill," She declared wrinkling her nose as she fumbled the cue. Handing it back to him she shook her head, "She cannot compete as yet." One hand patted his shoulder and the other moved soft as a cat's paw.

"Aw you'll get it eventually cutie," The man chuckled, "You just keep watchin' us. I'm Wright by the way."

"She is grateful for the opportunity, name is River," River smiled and bumped her captain deliberately. When he reached out to steady her, River smiled. "Cap'n is kind to her." She looked over the table, "She will bring more beverages as payment for allowing her to watch."

"Now that's a right girl," The one who'd tried to show her the shot proclaimed and River grinned at Inara as she neared the Companion.

"What are you up to River?" Inara murmured out of the corner of her mouth.

"Stealing from slavers," River grinned and took the tray of beers from the bar tender. Returning to the table she slipped several bills into Mal's pocket, "The captain must get the next round." She insisted as she passed out the bottles, handing one to Riddick and Jayne with a wink. "Jayne," She tilted her head, "We have approximately two more games before they'll notice I stole their entire payday." Her eyes met Riddick's, "Do the two of you think it will be better for them to blame me or Mal?" With her back to the other men she divided the bills up and secreted part of them under her shirt, putting the rest in Riddick's front pocket.

"Way you've been slippin' 'round 'em they're gonna blame you River," Jayne muttered. "Ain't any gettin' 'round that."

"No, because Mal is going to do the same thing, only he'll take the man's entire wallet." River shook her head, "He's not very subtle is he?"

"No," Jayne chuckled into his beer.

Riddick's eyes sharpened as Wright expounded on his genius money making scheme, "Didn't hardly have to convert the ship even. Six in the corner. Stronger locks, thicker doors, keep everybody where they're supposed to be. Don't even need more rations."

River leaned into Riddick's side as Mal bumped Wright and the table, doing as she'd done earlier and coming away with Wright's wallet. The pool balls on the table wavered and disappeared, and the shout of anger at Wright almost drowned out the growl of Riddick's anger. The bar tender pointed at the sign on the wall, "MANAGEMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BALL FAILURE." Wright grumbled but in resignation gestured for the table to reset itself.

River looked up at Jayne and then at Wright pleadingly, "May she play Jayne? Please? She has bought you a tasty beverage that smells repugnant. Please?"

Jayne looked at his beer and looked at River and then Riddick, "All right fine, but next game is mine." He looked at Mal, "That's okay with you Cap'n?"

Mal spread his hands in agreement and River bounced happily as she took the pool cue from Jayne, "She is very pleased, this is a delightful application of geometry and three dimensional mathematics." She told Wright and his partner with the air of one imparting important knowledge.

Like clockwork, four sets of eyes shot to Riddick for a translation, Mal and Jayne among them this time and Riddick's chuckle drifted through the air, "She's talkin' bout the way ya figure a shot, girl's a math genius, wants to see if she can use it to figure the angles." He shook his head when four sets of eyes remained blank. "She's gonna use math to figure out what ball to hit to get more balls in the pockets. Dǒng ma?"

"Ah, no but that's okay," Wright shook his head and took the breaking shot.

Jayne shot Riddick a look and River grinned, the big man was going to induce Wright to talk more, and that would make her partner even more angry. "You made money, huh?"

Wright nodded, "Hand over fist, my friend. Water planets need labor, terraforming crews got a prodigious death rate."

"Labor, you mean, uh…slaves," Mal wasn't pleased but nobody would have known it unless they were River, Riddick or Jayne.

River watched as Wright took another shot, "Well it wasn't volunteers, for damn sure."

"That why you didn't have to lay in more rations?" Mal was quietly fuming and River sent Riddick a mischievous look.

"I didn't hear no complaints," The slaver chuckled some as he lined up another shot.

"How much money, lots?" Jayne was pretending eagerness to cover Riddick's growl of fury beside him while Mal walked over to speak with Inara. River nodded to Riddick as she heard his mental question. Mal was warning Inara that she might want to leave the bar.

"Captain, must buy the next round while he is at the bar," River called over to Mal with a grin. "Her rent is in your pocket."

"So it is," Mal nodded, an amiable smile replacing the frown that had pulled at his lips when she'd spoken. He returned to the table with another round though Riddick had barely touched his first. "Little River, you gonna play ever?"

"Mr. Wright will miss his next shot, as it is highly ambitious, and then my time will come," River spoke absently as she watched the slaver. "Is Inara going home?"

"I think in a moment or two, she's enjoyin' watching you play," Mal nodded sipping his beer.

Wright cursed as he missed his shot and picked up his tankard with a resigned air, "Well, let 'er rip." He gestured for River to begin.

The wicked grin that pulled at her lips was a twin to Riddick's as River began to run the table, "Most enjoyable," She grinned at him as the final ball sank. "Thank you."

"Well if you'll gimme another game, or maybe your man'll wanna play, lemme buy another round," Wright offered. Reaching for his wallet he found nothing but empty air, "Hēi ! my—" He stared at her, "You steal my cash little girl?"

River blinked up at him, "Clothing she wears is not designed to conceal stolen objects." Wright's gaze slammed into Riddick who was no longer leaning against the wall but standing upright and angry next to the very large Jayne.

"She's sayin' there ain't a spare inch in her clothes to hide your wallet," Riddick growled. "An' I don't take kindly to you callin' my woman a thief after she bought your beer."

River shook her head, "See?" She unbuttoned the cord frogs of her jacket and shrugged it off, revealing the skin tight camisole underneath. Shaking the jacket out to dislodge anything inside it she turned to show off the very tight denim pants and boots. "Nothing purloined." Putting her jacket back on and closing it up again she shook her head at Wright, "Not nice."

"Someone a you took my wallet," Wright's gaze swung to the captain and Mal blinked at him. "You bumped into me before, you lift it then?" He started towards Mal.

River sighed, "Richard, the entertainment is about to begin."

"Richard?" Wright's partner giggled at the name, "What are ya? A prissy core fella?"

Riddick's laugh was low and mean as he started for the man, "No, I'm an escaped convict with a history of violence." His fist slammed into the man's jaw so hard River could hear the crack of bone.

Wright's head snapped around as apparently River wasn't the only one to hear the ominous sound and River grinned, "Now she will dance." Throwing the pool cue to Jayne who began laying about with it on what might have been Wright's crew, she spun and kicked Wright in the face, knocking him back into the bar. "Inara, a hasty exit might not come amiss," River called to her friend.

Riddick was laughing as he and Jayne brawled back to back and River grinned as she kicked and punched her way over to Mal's side, "Captain." She greeted him politely and kicked someone behind him in the scrotum. "Are you enjoying your outing?"

"Well ān ān , I surely am, though I'm a touch worried about our exit strategy," Mal told her, a half grin tugging his lips as his fist hammered into someone's eye.

"Every good con needs one," River agreed. "I propose you fetch Inara and get her out. Richard, Jayne and I will cover your escape; we will meet you at the ship. Bugging out promptly might be advisable." Her hard little fists beat someone's solar plexis, and finished with a right cross to the jaw.

"Thinkin' someone may have alerted the authorities," Mal ducked a chair that was being thrown at him and blinked as River caught it and broke it over another man's back before tossing the remains of it to Riddick.

"I am certain of it with a ninety nine point six percent surety," River replied. "Inara is still by the bar. Go now." She turned slightly and poked her captain in the back, "Now Malcolm." The poke was enough to get him moving towards Inara, hustling her out.

River grinned as she heard Inara bid the barkeep farewell, "Lovely place, I'll tell my friends."

She giggled as another man came at her, "Richard, all non-combatants have left the bar," She called to her partner. "Now may I start killing people?"

"Hell, you know what a mess that makes bǎo bǎo," Riddick called back with a grin. "But iffen you don't mind blood on your new clothes you go ahead and enjoy yourself."

"I ain't doin' an extra shift in the laundry 'cause you can't control your woman Rick," Jayne warned as he slugged someone else.

"Ain't sayin' you should," Riddick agreed amiably. "But you know a woman ain't ever under anyone's control but her own."

River's laughter floated through the air as the last man she'd faced fell to the ground, "Point is moot." She declared as Riddick and Jayne finished off their opponents. "Let us return home," She dug a wad of cash out of her cleavage and tossed it to the bartender. "For the damages." She squeaked as Riddick scooped her up and led Jayne back to the ship at a run, the sound of sirens behind them.

"Gorram," Jayne cursed as they ran, "That cash was twice what it would a cost to fix up the place."

"But he won't give a description to the lawmen now because I paid him," River shrugged against Riddick as he ran up Serenity's ramp and Jayne hit the button to close it. "No cameras or cortex feeds in the bar, besides it was less than half of what I stole from Wright."

"Couldn't even catch you makin' the lift," Jayne chuckled as he sat down on a crate. "Didn't even see you pass the rest to Rick an' I know you must've."

Riddick pressed a warm kiss to River's neck and sighed with pleasure, "Thank you liàn rén." His entire body felt relaxed in a way he hadn't been in a while. It was a bone deep calm not entirely unlike a fall with River. "Oh dì yù baby, thank you," A long deep kiss later he pulled back to look at River. "You're fuckin' amazin' tiān shǐ. You always fuckin' know."

"What's she know?" Mal's voice was a little annoyed and a lot curious as he walked down the stairs to. "We'll be leavin' in five minutes. Kaylee's on her way back with some parts."

Riddick was lazily kissing River again and didn't answer. Mal with a sigh and a look in his eye Jayne coulda told Riddick wasn't a good sign stalked over to River and Riddick's crate and put one hand on the burly man's shoulder and one on River's with the full intent of separating them. Before he could open his mouth to repeat his question identical knives were held against vulnerable parts of his body, Riddick's at his jugular and River's at his femoral. The truly insulting part of it was that neither of the dangerous kissing people opened their eyes, looked up or stopped kissing each other.

River finally took her lips away from Riddick's, "Captain is ruining the mood." She complained and sheathed her knife, "Very loud."

"Mal, iffen you'd asked, coulda told ya that weren't a good idea," Jayne was shaking his head as if Mal had just exceeded Jayne's greatest stupidity.

Riddick sighed slightly and took the edge of his shiv away from the captain's neck, flipping the blade in his hand, "Mal, I ever give you any indication that it was all right to lay hands on me? Or my woman?" He smiled at River, "You just get exponentially more impressive don't you bǎo bǎo."

"She is a prodigy and a genius, she must continually evolve," River shrugged and regarded the captain with a cool gaze. "You are not part of our pack. You are not our family. Given no indication you want us to be part of yours. You don't have skin privileges."

"Skin privileges?" Mal blinked down at her, "What in the ruttin' hell does that even mean?"

"Skin privileges, an old term used on Earth That Was to describe the rights and freedoms of Caucasians over the darker skinned races." Simon's voice said calmly as he entered the bay from the passenger lounge. "As River and Rick use the term it means the right between pack members to touch and be touched." He dried off his hands and threw the towel over his shoulder before dropping down onto a crate near River and Riddick. "As it's been explained to me, skin privileges are something the animal in all of us desperately needs. Some of us are more attuned to it than others, River and Rick, are very conscious of exactly how much time and contact they need to function." He shook his head, "Captain you're dealing with two people who have fully embraced their animal, or primal, selves in order to survive. In their world, touch is very important, as is the right to refuse it from someone not trusted."

"How in the hell do you know so much about this?" Mal blustered. Riddick could tell the captain was more upset about Simon being so calm in the face of violence than Mal was about the knives he'd been facing moments ago.

"You don't think I just watched River move into a bunk with a very dangerous, violent and disturbingly intelligent man without at least talking to her now and then do you?" Simon shook his head, "Apart from meal times, River and I play chess, well she plays and I humiliate myself. We talk, we play when Rick is working out with Jayne. We even do our own little version of working out." He shrugged, "And believe it or not I've come to enjoy Riddick's company. He's intelligent, well read, and plays a very good game of chess, I'm more his level than River's."

"Doc still cain't do much more'n the little weights but he's coming along with guns at least," Jayne nodded at the doctor coolly. "Dunno if we'll ever be friends but he don't use my things 'thout askin'. Him an' Shepherd, Rick an' River an' me we get good workout's goin' in the mornin', long's we get up early enough."

Riddick shook his head and looked up at Mal, "Why don't you sit down and just ask your question an' listen to the answer for a change?" He suggested, still feeling relaxed from the fight.

"Well the original question stands," Mal didn't sit but he did lean against the wall enough of a distance away that the knife would have to be thrown to hit him. "What's she know?"

Riddick chuckled and kissed River gently, answering the question but looking at his woman, "She knows when the animal needs a fight. Knows when it needs love, or food, or quiet, or just a good sweaty workout. My woman knows me."

"See that's what I'm not gettin', what do you mean she knows when you need a fight," Mal shook his head. "You ain't been grouchy or mean, ain't even snapped at anyone."

River tilted her head and looked at her man and smiled before she turned her gaze to Mal, "My mate, his animal, requires violence now and then. Requires more than sparring. He is a wolf, a warrior and trained to the hunt and battle."

Mal shook his head at her, a gleam of an inkling in his brain but he still wasn't grasping it, "Not quite there yet nī zi ."

"Not a little girl, nearly eighteen. A woman," River narrowed her eyes at him. "Captain was a soldier; what happens when a soldier trains too much, doesn't go into battle, has nothing to do but sit and wait and train some more?" She watched as enlightenment lit Mal's face, "So it is with my Riddick. He cannot only spar, cannot only train. He must have battle or he will..." She turned her face back to Riddick's her smile gentle, "Or the animal will feel it is in a cage again."

"A cage again?" Mal asked carefully.

"The Academy caged him, tried to tame him, tried to beat him into submission, even tried to give him a cub to protect in the hopes of gentling his nature, and then tried to turn him against the cub who wasn't a cub, was a woman, and the woman against him, tried everything to control the animal," River shook her head. "They never understood the nature of the beast."

"Animals run wild, they're free, lessen they're raised in captivity," Mal realized. "They tried to take a wild animal and tame it to a cage."

"And they took a purebred bitch from a comfortable home and put her in with him, hoping she would tame him, but he made her as wild as he," River continued the analogy. "Some animals can be caged, but they can never be tamed."

"So every now an' then, I need a real fight," Riddick shrugged. "River knows better'n me when I need it instead of sparrin'." He leaned forward and nuzzled her lips with his, "My woman always knows what I need. There's times I cain't figure out what the animal wants. River always knows."

"How?" Mal asked bluntly. "See, it ain't passed my notice that there's a lotta things that River knows an' not all of 'em are explainable."

"Nunya," Riddick returned with a smirk.

"Nunya?" Mal shook his head, "Nunya...what're you... Nunya?"

"Nunya bizness," River finished the joke a hard glint in her eye.

"My boat, my crew, my business," Mal frowned at her.

"But I am not your crew," River shook her head. "I pay my way on your boat. And you have made it abundantly clear that I am not part of your business." She rested her head against Riddick's shoulder, "You set me apart. Never trust me or look me in the eye. Call me a child." Riddick could feel a sleepy little purr in her chest as he wrapped her in his arms and cuddled her back against his chest and reached up to pull the pins out of her chignon, letting her hair spill down over her shoulder. "Why should I tell you anything?"

Jayne chuckled, "Gotta say it's a pleasure to see somebody else throw your sāo lǘ behavior back in your face Mal."

"Jayne your mouth is talkin' again," Mal said shortly. "Now you two just pulled knives on me, got me an' Inara in a brawl an' got me buggin' outa Santo in an all fired hurry." He folded his arms, "Someone is gonna start explainin' somethin' or when we hit Persephone ya'll are gettin' off."

Riddick chuckled lazily, "You ain't been listenin'." He shook his head. "Simon done explained it to you. Hell I've said it. River told you just now. But you just don' hear us."

"Then say it again, slowly, in Captain dummy talk," Mal retorted. "Say it so's I can understand."

"They made River like me," Riddick spoke slowly as if to a very small learning impaired child. "I grew up, never understanding how I knew things. I could understand what people were gonna do before they did it. I had an animal's instinct for what I could survive. I'm damn smart, remember everything, ain't like River, but I grew up with violence."

"I was sheltered, and given everything," River said softly. "I understood everything, knew things. I was privileged. And then all of the sudden I wasn't. They put me in a cage with a wild wolf. I loved how he was, couldn't tame him, didn't want to tame him. So I became wild, like him." She looked at Mal, her dark eyes cold, "They cut into me, made me see everything, hear everything, took pieces away, put others in, a puzzle with all the pieces mixed up until they made a new picture. And the only way for me to survive, to still be me, was to not. The animal sees and hears everything, the animal made it possible for me to live with what they did."

"They couldn't take away her intelligence," Simon said slowly. "But whatever they did to her, increased her senses, they made her so she was like Riddick in some ways so she had no choice but to become like him in every way." He looked at Mal, "The short version is that River knows what Riddick needs intuitively because she needs the same things, but in lower dosages. She's had no choice but to become painfully self aware in order to survive."

Riddick tilted his head at Simon and smiled slowly, wickedly and nodded his acknowledgment of what Simon had just done. He gave Mal an explanation for River's knowledge with a truth, but not the truth, the doctor didn't even smell of lies because he had told the truth. "That satisfy you Mal?"

"Don't explain how she knew about the Alliance back at that derelict, nor 'bout the new made Reaver," Mal countered.

River shrugged, "Just knew. Boy was like a sick animal. Alliance was a matter of odds, your bad luck and known shipping lanes coincided." She pressed a kiss to the side of Riddick's neck, "I've always known things. Don't know what the Alliance was trying to do with me, with the others, but I know what I am."

"Dangerous," Mal's voice held a question and a statement.

"I'm Riddick's," River shifted and lifted herself out of Riddick's lap to grip the railing of the stairs. Riddick nodded and moved to open the airlock so Kaylee could come inside.

"See? That. How'd she know Kaylee was here," The captain was flabbergasted and annoyed with it. Confusion was a state that did not suit him for all that it happened so often.

"Heard her," River shrugged. "So did my Riddick." She moved towards Simon's bunk, "Wait here. Call the others to come and see." She tossed the words back over her shoulder nonchalantly.

"See what?" Mal called after her. "What're they gonna see?"

Kaylee smiled up at Rick and handed him a bag she'd been lugging around, "Can you or Jayne put this somewhere we won't trip over it? Got supplies to make crybabies."

"Can do," Riddick nodded and shut the door tight. Hitting the intercom he spoke into it, "Wash, we got a full house."

"Leaving atmo in five minutes," Wash's voice came over the loudspeaker.

"Roger that," Riddick clicked off and returned to his crate, "Kaylee, River's got somethin' to show us if you'll hang around for a bit." The mechanic nodded and picked a crate in between Simon and Jayne drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around them with a smile.

"I still ain't gettin' what River wants us to see," Mal grumbled a little bit as he moved over to the com set. Hitting the button he spoke into it, "Wash once you got a course set for Persephone gather up Zoe, Inara and the Shepherd, come on down to the bay."

"As your will commands O fearless leader," Wash's sardonic voice crackled back through the com and Riddick chuckled. He could catch the scent of the pilot's humor even down in the bay now that he knew what to look for. Wash liked Mal well enough but the pilot didn't care for how seriously the captain took everything. Sometimes the scent of Wash's humor was enough to make Riddick chuckle even if he didn't know the joke. There was a reason River loved to spend time on the bridge.

"If River has something to show us, then I am going to sit and wait until she comes back," Simon was gazing at Kaylee as if she was every world in the 'verse. "So what sort of parts make a crybaby," He asked the mechanic curiously. "Is there anything I can help with?"

"Oh there's some fiddly bits that always can use an extra hand," Kaylee told him cheerfully. "Jayne usually does the weldin' for me an' Wash an' me work the circuitry. If you're willin' to lend a hand, bet 'tween River an' Rick, 'long with Wash an' Jayne bet we could get a couple done in a day."

Rick smiled slightly, Kaylee's desire for Simon smelled of warm summer grass, the kind of scent that came from a fresh mowed field wet with dew and slowly warming under the rising sun. It was a nice scent not overpowering. Simon still smelled like a doctor, probably always would, but under the scent of surgical steel and antiseptic Riddick could catch the scent of sandalwood, exotic but increasing as his heart beat rose along with his blood. The shuddering of the ship as they left atmo caught his attention and he tilted his head, "Feel a little rough to you Kaylee?" He murmured the question glancing at Mal for confirmation.

The captain nodded and looked at Kaylee, "Thinkin' when we set down again check out some a the paneling on the nose. Buffer panel shakes lose an' our landin's won't be near as comfortable."

"I could put on a suit an' take a look," Riddick said quietly. "Between Jayne an' me, ain't a lotta work we ain't done in the black. Weldin'd be nothin'."

"Keep it in mind if need be," Mal nodded and blinked as River emerged from the passenger bunks where Simon's trunk was still kept. The girl looked very different, a skirt with a crinoline under it standing stiffly out from her legs above her knees and toe shoes on her feet. Her upper body was barely covered by the pale green camisole she'd worn under her jacket. "What in the name a the dear an' fluffy lord…"

Riddick chuckled and rose to take the portable music player from River's hand, "Somethin' to show us gorgeous?"

"Yes," River nodded decisively. "Richard will aid her by placing a crate in the middle of the cargo bay?"

"Just point me to the spot," He picked up the crate next to the one they'd been sitting on and moved it to the area she indicated as Inara and Book arrived on the catwalks. "You all stretched out?"

"She will use the stair rail to ensure full elasticity," River smiled at him. Her hair had been wound into a knot on the top of her head, and she'd wrapped a stiff piece of gold foil paper around the bun like a little crown.

"You just nod at me you want any a my help," Riddick retreated to his crate as Inara and Book made their way down the stairs. It took another ten minutes, Simon smiling at the idea of River dancing and explaining to Kaylee that his sister was wearing a traditional ballerina's costume, if a little improvised while elaborating whenever Kaylee or Jayne showed confusion about his words on their faces. Doc was getting good at figuring out when folks needed to absorb something and when he actually needed to explain it.

Wash and Zoe emerged onto the catwalk finally and the pilot blinked when he saw River, "You look like you popped outa my mother's old jewelry box River." He called as he and Zoe walked down the stairs. "Do we finally get to see the dancing you told us about?"

"Something to show you," River nodded. "Must pay attention."

Wash looked at the impromptu seating area and grinned, "Well you've got quite the audience here, where do the irreverent and plain-speaking folks fit in?"

"Beside the brilliant engineer and the girl's bigger half," River giggled as Riddick pushed his crate back so it was near Kaylee's making a bench of four crates so they could all sit in a row.

"We're all set," Riddick chuckled. "Just gimme a nod when you want the music to start."

River grinned at him and nimble climbed up onto the crate he'd placed for her, one arm arched gracefully over her head and the other in front of her, sinuous curves made stiff as plasti. "Now please," River said quietly and Riddick mashed down the button.

Tinkling music seemed to plink through the air, the notes almost tinny as if from an old machine. And River began to move, like a wind-up toy, slowly turning in circles. How she contrived to look like a toy was beyond Riddick's comprehension, and then the music grew louder and words emerged.

"What do you see
You people gazing at me
You see a doll on a music box
That's wound by a key."

River's movements were jerky and in time with the music and the funny scritching noise that sounded like old machinery moving. One arm moved down to match the other, in halting gestures, a doll speaking of how no one saw her as real.

"How can you tell
I'm under a spell
I'm waiting for love's first kiss…"

One hand rose to her mouth even as her head turned slightly and then gazed forward again. She was rotating, turning on first one toe then the other, and even her legs seemed stiff and mechanical as the song continued.

"You cannot see
How much I long to be free
Turning around on this music box
That's wound by a key,"

She bent forward at the waist as if longing for someone, her arms extending mechanically and then rising from the waist again, her hands moving inward,

I'm turning around and around…"

When the words ended River was back in her original position, stiff and motionless, the tinkling music winding down. For one long moment she stayed that way, stiff and cold and then music crashed through the player, echoing off the hull and she came to life.

Still on top of the crate River became the Valkyrie, a queen of the skies, before she leapt down, her toes pointed in the grand jeté, landing lightly as a bird. Her body spun and twisted violently, the mechanical dance of a moment ago a terrible parody of what she performed now, passion and beauty set free.

The music was fading, dying and River somehow contrived to return to her crate, one strong dancers leg pushing upwards. She balanced there, on one foot, en pointe in an arabesque, graceful and strong as the music finally faded away completely. Riddick frowned, now that the wonder of the dance was over, he could smell the blood.

River waited until the last note died, waited until they realized the dance was over, and then broke her pose. Simon was awed and grinning with pleasure, clapping his hands enthusiastically, nothing like the polite applause he would bestow in a theatre. Kaylee, and the others were applauding their appreciation, Jayne going so far as to give several ear splitting whistles. Mal was clapping slowly, Inara was more polite in her applause but the tears in her eyes were worth more than bruised palms. Riddick was applauding but his eyes were hot and filled with more emotion than his hands could convey without touching her.

"You," River looked at Mal, "You see me as the doll on the music box. Shiny toy that someone broke." Mal froze in place as she stared at him coolly. "Most of you see me as a combination of the first and the second dance, a broken girl who was beautiful once. Some of you are starting to see more, like Simon and Jayne do, as Riddick always has."

Riddick stood and walked towards her, extending his hand in invitation and she smiled, "Thank you my Riddick." She leapt into his arms and felt more than heard his chuckle of delight as her body collided with his. Bringing her back to another crate to sit her mate held her in his lap as she removed her toe shoes and the wrappings on her feet to expose her bloodied skin, her toes were bleeding, blisters on her heels broken and seeping. There were gasps of dismay, Kaylee's cry of sympathy and Jayne's breath hissed inward. Inara wasn't shocked but she was surprised that River could dance and never show the pain of her feet once. Even Book's stoic mask cracked slightly.

River never took her eyes off Mal's face, "Simon and Richard are the only ones who aren't surprised by my feet. You pay lip service to me someday being part of the crew, but you think I'm broken, weak, clinging to Richard and Simon like space trash that gets stuck to a ship out in the Black. I've been dancing since I was four years old. I've been en pointe since I was twelve. My feet bleed every time I dance. Every time. No one but Richard has ever been able to tell, and he only because he can smell my blood. I'm much, much stronger than you will ever give me credit for Malcolm Reynolds. Open your eyes. You are willfully blind."

"Now just a gorram minute," Mal opened his mouth to begin blustering.

Riddick forestalled him by standing up. Easily holding River in one arm he dug the rest of the cash River had passed him out of his pocket. "There's River's rent for the next two months. She took it offa that slaver. Made a better lift than you did an' you didn't even notice when she stuck money in your own pocket."

River leaned her head against Riddick's neck and sighed, "He requires more time before he will open his eyes." She said quietly. "Let us go rest before your shift on the bridge. Plans to make." She remained quietly in his arms until they reached their bunk and only then did Riddick release her. She slid down the ladder and sat quickly on the bed, Riddick's mind awash with awe at finally seeing her dance and irritation that it caused her to bleed. Her big man jumped down and shut the hatch behind him, and then she spoke her voice as soothing to the animal as she could make it. "I barely feel the pain anymore, I'm so accustomed to worse," She offered softly. "Dancers never have pretty feet my shuài gē."

"Well I know you ain't lyin' to me," Riddick sighed as he sat down beside her. "Still don't much like it baby."

"But you liked the dancing until you smelt my blood?" River knew she sounded pleading and hoped her big man wouldn't take it as worry over his reaction.

"It was beautiful River," Riddick gathered her into his arms as he always did when they were alone. "I've never seen anything more beautiful than you dancin'. Wish I could see that every day, but knowin' it makes you bleed..."

"It's the price I pay," River kissed him gently. "When I dance I don't feel it. I barely felt it before the Academy. Now I could lose a toe and still dance." She pressed her lips to his cheek, "When do you feel most free my Riddick? When are you most alive?"

"When I'm with you, or when I'm fightin'," Riddick admitted with a dark grin. "Put a shiv in my hand and set me loose, ain't a thing in the 'verse gonna stop me."

"My dancing is like that," River stroked his face with her hands, "When you fight you get bruises, fractures, abrasions. When I dance my feet bleed. But we don't stop because that's when we're alive. When our blood leaves us, that's when we're the most alive unless we're together...but even then, our hearts are pounding, our blood pumps...we're free."

"Yeah, I can see that," Riddick nodded a sigh escaping him. "It doesn't make a lotta sense I guess, that I want to take care of you and still want you to be able to take care of yourself."

"Makes sense to me," River told him with a smile. "Know I can take care of myself. Know you're a capable male, my man. Still want to be at your side, help you, fight at your back."

"That's where I always want you bǎo bǎo," Riddick pressed his lips to hers and tugged her back against him so they were reclining on the bed.

Author's Note: We have officially begun the Shindig episode. This is just a little warning, in this episode Mal's going to act like a sort of ass for a bit…he'll come around don't worry. We're staying in the semi confines of the episode for a while I'm working towards a slow change of how things will be and I think with a little mini episode of my own by Our Mrs. Reynolds we'll be seeing some changes to the episode endings. It's not easy to write these and change them without changing everything so be patient with me. I'm also doing my level best to not plagiarize anyone else on the site because I've read a lot of this crossover fic and Firefly fics and man there are some great writers on here.

Chinese Translations:

tiān shǐ - angel

bǎo bǎo - darling/baby

pì yǎnr - bastard/slob/asshole

pì gu - butt

mèi mei - little sister

Dǒng ma? - Understand/Get it

Hēi ! - hey

ān ān - honey – an endearment for addressing a little girl

liàn rén - lover/sweetheart

dì yù - hell

nī zi - little girl

sāo lǘ - jackass

shuài gē - handsome guy/ladykiller

Quote Sources:

Rather than repeat them I'll simply tell you that the lyrics and music for River's dance are from the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.