23) Breeze Still Carries The Sound

"Did ya ever see such a lazy crew?" Mal called as he entered the cargo bay.

"Captain," Kaylee exclaimed happily and then looked past him at a grim faced Riddick.

"Jayne give me a hand here," Simon called for the big merc, "Rick's wounded."

Badger looked at his cousin who made a 'so-so' motion with her hand before he looked at Mal, "You get us a deal then?"

"I got a deal. Now get off my ship," Mal ordered in annoyance.

Badger shrugged and looked at Shazza who nodded and followed Simon and River into the infirmary. "Well Shazz'll be along soon's Rick is settled in. Ta very much for a lovely night, then." He tipped his hat to the ladies present and smiled.

River waved at Badger as he gathered the rest of his crew and left before she looked at Shazza, "Simon just needs to check Richard's innards against the x-rays. Make sure there's no internal bleeding." Shazza wrapped an arm around her shoulders and watched as the big man helped Riddick onto the exam table with all the gentleness of a mother with a newborn.

"This happen often?" Shazza asked curiously.

"On this boat," Jayne rolled his eyes, "Too gāi sǐ much." He slanted a glare past the girls in the doorway towards the cargo bay where the captain stood. Kaylee and Wash were keeping an eye on the infirmary while Zoe seemed to have one eye on the Captain and one on the infirmary.

River sighed, "The Captain...has very bad luck." She watched as Simon removed the field dressing and checked the stitches before he brought the equipment over to check Riddick.

"Yeah, me an' Kaylee were talkin'," Jayne shook his head. "We was wonderin' if we could get the Shepherd to bless the boat or somethin', maybe counteract Mal's bad luck. Way things go it's like he's cursed."

"Sounds like he lacks common sense," Shazza remarked to River sotto voice. "Cain't say I'm predisposed to like the man, lookin' down on you folks like he does."

"Hey Simon," Wash's jovial tones weren't quite as chipper as normal. "How's he doin'?" Kaylee was at Wash's side while Book, Zoe, Mal and Inara hovered in the lounge area.

"Cannot assume in the future that the captain will understand that crew is attempting to save him, more warning must be given until captain learns to trust us," River said quietly.

"The Cap'n did this to him?" Jayne turned angrily towards the door until Riddick's voice called him back.

"Cobh, we planned for this, remember? Don' do anythin' ta get thrown off the boat," Riddick said quietly. "Like havin' ya around."

"Mal did this to ya," Jayne repeated. "Why fer?"

"I was kinda beatin' on him at the time, accordin' to the plan," Riddick reminded his old friend again a tired smile pulling at his lips. "River kicked 'em in the family jewels though, made him fold up like a concertina."

"All right Rick, take a deep breath and hold it for a moment, don't speak," Simon did something to Riddick's side that had the big man stiffening slightly and River taking a gasping breath, grabbing Shazza's hand.

Finally whatever it was, was done and Riddick was cursing a blue streak in mandarin while River sagged weakly against Shazza. "Doc, what in the..." Riddick shook his head. "What the hell?"

"Mal's knife wasn't...well let's just say that you make better ones," Simon shook his head, "It wasn't really that bad a wound, but the tip of the blade broke off, he skimmed your rib and chipped it. I got it out and you're no longer in danger of continuing blood loss."

Shazza shook her head and looked down at River, "Well mèi mei now that we know Rick'll be all right, I'll be on my merry." She kissed River's forehead, "Ya'll wave me if you need anything. Wanna hear all about how you're doin'."

"Same goes," Riddick told her tiredly. "Need anythin' you know what boat we're on."

"Ta then for a lovely evenin'," Shazza gave everyone an equally warm or not, when it came to Mal, smile before walking out the door in the airlock.

Without Shazza there River nearly flew to Riddick's side, "Richard..." She buried her face in his shoulder. "No more of your blood on the outside please." She shivered, "Know we planned for this and you don't mind overmuch but…no more blood please."

"Not plannin' on it," Riddick used his free arm to pat her back. "I'm all right angel. I'll be fine," He began to sit up. "Simon fixed me up good an' I heal fast."

"Well we got cargo," Mal called from the lounge, "Anybody who ain't wounded or been in a fight this mornin' get to clearin' out the bay. I'm told it's gonna be good an' full."

"And those who were involved in a fight?" Simon asked as he began to clean everything up.

"Head on up to the galley, start makin' breakfast," Mal said shortly.

"Right," Riddick swung his legs over and slid down from the table. "Simon we'll meet ya up there."

An hour or so later they were all finishing up breakfast, a few folk like Wash enjoying their last cup of coffee and the events of the night and morning hashed over and over again.

"There's one thing I ain't gettin'," Mal said finally. "Only reason Badger even went for your grand plan is 'cause you knew that woman a his."

"Yeah, Shazza's his cousin," Riddick nodded. "We're old friends."

"What I'm not gettin' is how you know her," Mal shook his head. "She ain't been with Badger long 'cause she weren't there before ya'll got on the boat."

"Old friends," River looked at Simon who nodded his agreement.

"By your own tale told to us after River come outa her box ya'll haven't known each other all that long," Mal persisted. "How do you know that woman?" He set his cup down and regarded the his passenger and the two newest members of his crew. "I'd like to know. An' you're gonna tell me."

River sighed and looked at Simon and then Riddick and shrugged, "Disinclined to acquiesce to your request." When Mal simply stared at her blankly River rolled her eyes, "Means 'no'."

"Whadda ya mean no?" Mal scowled.

"She is disinclined to acquiesce to your request," River shook her head and began to clear the table.

"Means 'no'," Riddick finished dryly. He leaned back in his chair and didn't wince, just barely. "Shazza's an old friend. She's the one person in the 'Verse besides Jayne, River an' Simon that I know I can count on 'thout reservation."

Simon nodded his agreement, "No offense meant to any of you, but you haven't been through what we have together."

"And what was that precisely?" Mal's scowl hadn't lightened.

"Never asked what Richard and I had against slavers," River put the plates in the cleaner and kissed Riddick's cheek before she sat down again. "Don't owe you anything Malcolm Reynolds." She shook her head, "You must earn our secrets." She frowned, "Tremble, thou wretch, that has within thee undivulged crimes, unwhipped of justice." Her head tilted thoughtfully as she looked at Mal but her gaze was far away, "Soon. Soon you'll meet Richard B. Riddick. You will have some answers then. Must wait a while longer." She rose from the table in her graceful drifting way and her fingers trailed along the backs of the crew sitting there until she reached the door, "Will add additional rent for the use of the lounge and bridge now and then, must set up my cortex and begin my work." Her eyes twinkled merrily as she looked at the crew and her man, "Will give a discount on services if crew helps her set up."

Jayne chuckled and finished his plate, "Gimme five an' I'll help ya out." He offered, "Don't guess Simon'll want Rick movin' anythin' heavy for a day or so."

Simon nodded his agreement, "That's an accurate assessment." His smile was amused as he forked up another bite of protein. "At the rate Rick heals he'll be fine in about thirty six hours, until then I'd appreciate it if you'd do nothing more strenuous than sitting and holding River." He regarded Riddick thoughtfully, "Your clothes got a fair amount of blood on them. I can clean them if you like. I know something about getting blood out of silk."

"'Preciate that," Riddick nodded and River smiled as she drifted out of the room. "Mal we ain't known you that long. Might be you'll wanna wait a spell before you ask River 'bout secrets. That's all the folks in the Academy wanted to know, what she saw, what she heard. You wanna throw us both back into that hellhole, watch us both go more'n a little mad… keep pushin' when neither of us are at our best. Guarantee you'll see more'n you want."

"I'll keep it in mind," Mal lifted his cup to hide the frown, concern and determination in his scent, Riddick could smell just how much Mal wanted to protect his crew, his uncertainty of what the right thing was. The captains next words proved he wasn't as uneducated as he pretended as he responded to River's earlier quote quietly, "I am a man more sinned against than sinning."

"Right thing ain't easy to see," Riddick remarked obliquely as he cleared his plate and took Jayne's as well since the big man was putting down his chopsticks. "It's easier for River an' me, we know ya'll are decent. Could say we got alla the puzzle pieces. But…the picture it ain't clear. An' 'til it is…cain't exactly show you or explain it well enough."

"So you're sayin' part of why I get no answers is you don't know all of 'em yourself?" Mal frowned not bothering to hide it this time.

"Some, yeah," Riddick shrugged the wound in his side was pulling in a way that was slightly uncomfortably. "And some of 'em…answers aren't easy to say. Can't blame River if there're things she don't wanna talk on." He looked at Simon, "Hell there's things the doc don't like to speak of. Ain't one of us hasn't been through hell. Shazz was with us…went through it too."

"Rick, are you saying something happened to you, River, Simon and Shazza after the Academy," Wash's voice was kind, his concern a near palpable thing and soothing to the animal in a way that was a rarity in anyone but River.

Simon was the one who answered, breaking his gaze off of Riddick's silver eyes, "Yes." He answered Wash looking at the pilot. "It isn't something we speak of. It was…plainly it was terrifying." He looked at Zoe and Mal, "We," He indicated Riddick, himself and River. "We have never asked you about the war. About Serenity Valley."

Riddick could smell Mal's pain and raw anger that anyone would bring that up in comparison to their own problems and cut the captain off before he could spout his temper, "Ain't sayin' it's the same Mal." He said quietly. "Just sayin' we ain't asked. Maybe give us the same courtesy 'bout what we went through on planet."

He finished loading the cleaner and walked out of the room, cat-footed even in his boots, conscious of Jayne following him and Mal's rage strangled and impotent in the face of Riddick's reasoning. He heard Simon leave the table and bid Kaylee and the others good night before he arrived down in the passenger lounge where River was opening her cases.

Riddick waited in the galley, River had said Inara would come in to make tea and he wanted to speak with the Companion on neutral ground. River had gone down to talk with Jayne about her ever widening search for Ciara. She'd had the idea of sketching what the girl had looked like when Jayne had last seen her and using cortex programs to age the image.

"Miss Inara," Riddick greeted the Companion as she entered the galley. "How're you doin' after all the excitement?"

"I could have done without it," Inara said dryly putting the kettle on. "And you? You were stabbed not more than eight hours ago. Are you sure you should be out of bed?"

Riddick shrugged without a wince, "I know how to suppress pain, how to use it as fuel, or just endure it. What I didn't learn when I was a kid the Academy taught me pretty well." He regarded Inara thoughtfully, "River's right," He said quietly. "I can smell it, under the perfume, you're ill."

"No one knows," Inara brought over cups and saucers and spoons. "I'm...older than I look. Medically my disease makes me look younger even as it kills me. I'll be a beautiful corpse."

"How long?" Riddick tilted his head inquiringly.

"I have a few years," Inara gave a graceful shrug. "I'll go very quickly when the end comes." She removed the kettle from the stove and began to make tea in the graceful way all Companions had. Riddick watched her silently until she finished returning to the table with two cups.

"Here's somethin' you might wanna think about," Riddick said slowly. "An' I ain't sayin' you don't got the right to live your life as you choose." He took the cup she gave him with a nod of thanks, "You might wanna do somethin' to prepare the folks around you."

"It's no one's business," Inara's voice wasn't quite sharp but it was more crisp than normal.

"It is in a way," Riddick returned, his low voice an implacable rasp. "You're in their lives, Mal got in a duel over your good name, I got stabbed, Kaylee loves you. Wash depends on you to be another voice of reason. And in a coupla years...it'll only be worse. It'll be worst for Mal. You encourage him to love you. You act to all outward appearances as if you're not interested but he's drawn to you."

"I cannot control how men react to me," Inara's cool voice was a vivid contrast to the lie that stung his nose like black pepper scattered over a caramel tart.

"An' that's a lie," Riddick shook his head. "Apart from that's a Companion's business, controllin' how people react to you, I can smell lies. Remember?"

"What would you have me do?" Inara took a sip of her tea, "Leave without a word to anyone?"

"Mal's the one that worries me," Riddick lifted his cup and took a deep breath of the scent before he sipped. "How much more do you think he can stand to lose before he's completely broken? How much can one man take Inara?"

"What should I do then?" The Companion's voice was slightly exasperated.

"Do what a Companion does; control how you allow him to react," He shrugged as he sipped the tea slowly. "This is your mess Inara, I'm just tryin' to get a pretty clueless man out before more blood is shed."

"He's not a normal man, he's contrary and how he'll reacts is a mystery to me most of the time," Inara shook her head. "I'm never on steady ground with him."

"Then don't be with him," The convict's voice was cool and controlled even as Inara's began to express more emotions. "You know better anyway," He reminded her.

"Yes I do," Inara sighed. "Was that what you wanted to talk about Rick? Or was there something else."

"River's... havin' some trouble with the homework you assigned her," He spoke slowly feeling his way through the words. "See...animals don't... seek pleasure alone." He said finally, looked up at Inara.

"But she's a human girl," Inara shook her head. "To seek pleasure for its own sake is very human."

"It is," Silver eyes were concerned as they met Inara's dark gaze. "But she's not fully human anymore and I never have been. River had a difficult time yesterday, in part because she tried to do her homework when I wasn't around. It didn't work."

"So she didn't fall," Her voice was thoughtful. "And you believe this is due to her more primal nature requiring a partner?"

"Thought I'd try just bein' in the room with her an' seein' if that helped," Riddick said quietly. "I got a feelin' it'll work but it'll be because she'll be able to tell what I'm thinking, feeling. I know that isn't what you want." He shrugged, "Since she and I… Well, I don't have a lotta interest in self-service either. Dunno if it's 'cause the animal found its mate or if it's just one of my quirks."

"See if being in the room helps," Inara agreed. "When she's with you and using the device does she fall?" He was grateful for a moment that their voices were low and Inara was discreet. It was unlikely someone would overhear them since with his hearing it was near impossible for anyone to sneak up on him, but just the idea of it stirred killing instincts. He wouldn't have even spoken of the issue in a public part of the ship but Inara could be very firm when she was on her own ground and it suited his purposes that she be more open to his way of thinking.

"Yes," Riddick nodded decisively. "Even using different positions," He paused, "Part of why I mention it is when River's off balance it's harder for her to deal with the results of the Academy's procedures. Gettin' worked up and not fallin'…that put her off balance. We ain't exactly in a position of strength with Mal, I think my stab wound proves that, so we're tryin' to keep ourselves as…normal as we can. Even after our little chat at dinner…not lookin' to push the man."

"Not an easy feat in itself for you or River," Inara agreed. "Very well, see if what we discussed helps. If it doesn't we'll revisit the idea. I recall River mentioning self exploration being dissatisfactory after a time. I'll try to speak with her regarding it."

"I'd appreciate it," Riddick gave her a half smile. "She an' I, we don't got a choice 'bout talkin' to each other, extra senses make it obvious when one of us ain't up to snuff. Half a the problem Mal's got with her is he thinks River's crazy. Anything I can do to make her seem more stable…"

"Can only help," Inara nodded her understanding. "If you'll let River know I'll speak with her whenever she's ready tomorrow. We're due for another session in a day or so anyway."

"You got it," He agreed and rose. "I'm due on the bridge but you have a good night Inara."

"You two Rick," Inara rose and went back to her shuttle. Riddick nodded slightly in satisfaction, River had mentioned Inara was going to sit with the captain in the cargo bay. River had said Inara was playing with a bottle she thought was whiskey and that when it broke it wouldn't be whisky it would be naphtha and everyone would be harmed. Normally Riddick wouldn't bestir himself to meddle with someone's relationship but he couldn't afford to have Mal completely off his rocker insane when River was fragile herself.

He never thought he'd be cursing the day he helped bring in a paying job, Riddick thought grimly as he lifted himself up on Jayne's pull up straps. The cargo hold was full of cattle, of all the things, cattle. That meant a stench the likes of which his nose found monumentally displeasing and absolutely no large amount of space for he and River to spar. They were only two weeks into the trip to Jiangyin and he and Simon were finding out just how crucial the sparring and katas were to River's mental well-being. She'd gone from being stable to being on the edge of her last nerve. It was evident to he and Simon that she was doing her best but to him she constantly smelled of steel, blood, citrus and silk, her pain was becoming a constant that drove his animal mad.

Jayne had done his best to help, moving all the furniture in the lounge against the walls so they had something of a practice space and hooking up another set of straps for River to use in unison with Riddick. His weight bench and equipment had been pushed back towards the wall under the stairs so it could still be used. But the big man smelled of worry just as Simon did.

Wash had taken one look at River during breakfast the first week and tilted his head asking if she'd like a flying lesson or two since she couldn't dance. The grateful look she'd given him had seemed to almost embarrass the pilot but River had nodded. That had helped, occupying her mind with things to learn, something to concentrate on was the next best thing to meditation.

Mal had not been particularly helpful but no one had really expected that he would be. At least he hadn't told Wash that River wasn't allowed on the bridge without Riddick to keep an eye on her.

"C'mon baby, let's do some weights an' then we'll try a kata in the lounge," Riddick suggested as he saw River's muscles straining to lift her weight one more time.

"Yes," River nodded. "Physical exertion, mental discipline to stave off the effects of surgeries," She dropped down into his arms and pressed her mouth onto his. "Jayne has been very kind of late. He will try to irritate Simon in order to throw Mal off the scent of any change."

"Any luck on the cortex?" Riddick asked as they moved around the perimeter of the bay to the lounge.

"Not as yet," River shook her head. "Spent some time with Jayne, talking about her, getting pictures in his head of her mother and father, what she might look like as she aged." She sighed and took a deep breath. "Hoped to do more work but circumstances do not allow for it much."

"Well got a while before we make Jiangyin, an' I don' like how this is affectin' you liàn rén," He gathered her into his arms and kissed her gently, "You ain't been this...unsettled since...well since you read cards for those old men."

"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven," River's head rested under his chin, her ear against his pulse listening to the blood rush through his veins. "Didn't realize how difficult it would be," She admitted. "Don't like that you have to worry about me, don't like how weak I am."

"Don't wanna hear any a that talk," Riddick nearly growled. "None a this is your fault River," He looked at Simon who was standing in the infirmary and knew that the doctor was just as concerned as he was. "You do fine when you get time and space for your katas," He rubbed his hands over her back and sighed. "Really dunno why I'm worried, Cap'n thinks you're chī xiàn. He ain't gonna be surprised if we do somethin' a little odd. He'll just think he's right."

"Richard worried because the more trouble she is the more likely Mal will put us off the boat," River murmured. "But that won't happen."

"Know that for a fact?" Riddick chuckled and felt a touch of apples and tequila trickle into her scent. She was curious and finding humor in something, most likely the captain.

"Hates Alliance," River said softly. "Found Serenity on the Cortex. Won't ever give anyone up to Alliance if he can avoid it."

"Yeah," Riddick nodded slowly. "Last battle of the war." He looked up as Jayne entered the lounge and nodded at him, Zoe on his heels, and continued his conversation with River. "Recall somethin' of it, Independents held the valley against all odds, held out even after Command called for them to lay down arms."

"You can look it up in the encyclopedia under 'Bloodbath'," Zoe told him crisply.

River nodded against Riddick's neck and sighed, citrus filled her scent and he knew that she was reading Zoe's thoughts, reading about Serenity. "Lost everyone," She murmured sadly. "Named his ship for it because he'll never be able to leave." Simon left the infirmary and joined Riddick on the short couch, his hand petting River's hair soothingly.

"Like on planet?" Simon asked finally and Riddick knew what the doctor meant. The three of them now and then referred to 'on planet' in conversations between themselves and Shazza. No one else would understand what they meant but for the four survivors, 'on planet' meant the nameless rock with three suns and monsters where they'd lost nearly everyone, worthy and unworthy alike. There was only one planet for them.

"Very like," River said softly. "Lost in the valley and left to rot. Left to starve. Captain commanded over two thousand, lost the officers, sergeant had to make do. Down to four hundred plus... only a little over one hundred and fifty left when the ships finally came. Balls and Bayonets Brigade. Only Zoe Alleyne left out of his entire platoon. Even she left him when she found a husband. No longer only his to command, another man comes first now. Stings and it doesn't. As it should be, but it just makes him more alone."

Riddick looked up to see Jayne's eyes a study in misery as he was sure his own were in the dim light. Zoe's face was cool, composed, and if it weren't for the riot of her heartbeat and scent he might have thought she was as calm as she looked.

"How did she know all that," Zoe's voice was almost level, but not quite. Her dark eyes were glued to River until they lifted to meet Riddick's silver gaze.

"Most of it she found on the cortex," Simon answered the question with a shrug. "The rest, the personal information...River's very observant and no one guards their tongue around her. Mal treats her as if she's mad, you're better but you don't think that she might be listening and in spite of Rick and I saying it multiple times no one realizes she hears far more than all of you think."

"So what does she know about me from snooping and listenin'," Jayne wanted to know. Riddick looked at his old friend and saw the bigger man nod in acknowledgement and if he'd been sly he would have kissed him. The distraction would certainly detract from Zoe's thoughts of wondering how River knew what she did.

River smiled as she read what was in Jayne's thoughts, felt Richard's pleasure at his friends concern and willingness to help. Wrapped in Riddick's arms and anchored by his mind she could immerse herself in the thoughts of others, find new things to think about, exercise her brain in a way mere meditation didn't allow. Seeking out thoughts and memories was like a mental kata, new each time, and it helped her to maintain the disciplines that controlled her psyche.

"Jayne Cobb," She said softly. "Born on Kerry. Oldest friend living of my Riddick. Made common cause with him in childhood. Family on Kerry still. Schooled in welding. Ranger. Tracker, hunter, sniper by trade. Works for pay. You and my Riddick are bǎ xiōng dì, bonded in blood. Bonded by steel." She smiled, "Patron of many houses of pleasure. Exceptional at physical combat much like my Riddick. Bound by law several times. Jailed once for five days on Hera, drunk and disorderly. Waiting for an interesting day."

Jayne chuckled slightly, "Well she's nuttier than peanut butter but she's damn entertainin'." He told his old friend with a grin. "Oughta see if she can work a carnival with that act."

River shook her head, "Cortex terminals would give away the game." She disagreed. "Would have to rely on superior senses and read tarot for clientele." She regarded the big man and Zoe thoughtfully. "How will we get the smell out of the ship?" She asked curiously pointing towards the cattle. "Illegal transport makes docking at a station with water and cleaning supplies problematic."

"Yeah, don' much care for the stench neither," Jayne shook his head. "Guess we'll find some stuff to shovel it out, dry it up if we can. Get rid of the smell that way." He looked at Zoe hopefully.

"Could always lock everything down and open the air lock when we hit the Black," Zoe shook her head. "We'd have to touch down on planet again, get the oxygen back but it might be worth it to get rid of the smell."

River frowned out at the cows, "Will research ways to neutralize the smell of cow patties." She reached for her cortex and Simon rolled his eyes and handed it to her. Opening it she absently covered Riddick's eyes until the flash of the screen was done and was rewarded with a kiss on her palm. "Manure becomes a nitrate when it is aged; could be used for explosives," She said absently.

"No shit," Jayne chuckled. "Would it smell while it was agin'?"

"Manure does not possess a nose, therefore it has not the capability of utilizing the olfactory sense," River said absently as she searched the cortex. "However it would still be odiferous while it aged."

"Still tryin' to figure olfactory," Jayne grumbled.

"She's sayin' that the cow patties can't smell themselves but they'd still stink when they were gettin' old an' dried out," Zoe told the gun hand dryly.

"So olfactory is smell like aud-i-a-to-rey is for hearing," Jayne was muttering and River smiled slightly.

Riddick nodded at the gun hand, "Yeah Cobh, that's right." River could feel his sympathy for the uneducated man. She knew that the gun hand wasn't stupid but his dyslexia didn't afford him much opportunity for education. Anything to do with numbers was easy for him though he was careful to hide that from his crew, but words stymied him. He was slowly learning but it was a frustrating process for a man like Jayne, strong and scary to outsiders.

"According to the cortex there are very few ways to neutralize the odor without scrubbing down the entire bay and using carbon filters to clean the air," River shook her head. "Manual labor is required."

"Won't be the first time," Zoe shrugged nonchalantly.

River wandered into the lounge and wince, the cows were irritating. They were like a large many minded mass of hooves and tails and stench none of them realizing what they were. They'd been in the black for nearly a month and every day was worse. She'd learned as much as she could from Wash and Kaylee but after the third week she couldn't concentrate well enough to learn. Meditation without exercise was as useless as exercise without meditation.

Simon emerged from the infirmary and smiled at her, "River, how're you feeling?"

"Too many...and not enough...and its all pushing at me," River shuddered as she felt Simon's mind. He was remembering playing Alliance and Independents, the Independents had dinosaurs. "Simon lost his head in the heat of battle," She whispered. "He never saw me. He was never..." She pushed her fingers into her hair, against her scalp, feeling the scars.

Blood and blue and white... cold air, cold fingers, never warm enough, where was her Riddick, he always held her when she was cold. Too many minds, pushing at her, like the Academy after a surgery, "Two by two, hands of blue… No..." She moaned desperate for relief, "No, I don't...wanna go back to the..."

She felt Simon's hands touch her shoulders, driving his mind harder against hers, felt his worry, his fear for her, alongside the warmth of his love. It should have been reassuring, her brother's voice should have soothed her, "It's okay," He told her gently. "It-"

"It's not okay!" River knew she was screaming, knew she shouldn't, there was a reason she shouldn't yell but she could barely hear her own voice over all the thoughts, the confusing alien thoughts of all the things that didn't know who they were. "You can't just dig into me, shove twenty needles in my eyes and ask me what I see!" She was rocking and sobbing and knew she sounded insane but she couldn't stop.

"I..." Simon was still trying to help even as she felt Riddick coming towards her, "We won't go in, won't go near it. Look," He shut the infirmary doors firmly. "See, no tests, no needles," He touched her cheek. "I promise, no infirmary, not unless you're hurt."

Riddick came in, his mind a soothing beacon in which she could immerse herself. For man who lived in the shadows his mind was full of light but she couldn't stop muttering, "No rutting tests? Stupid son of a bitch, dress me up like a gorramn doll!"

Her mate's arms wrapped around her and Simon came closer, his worry like a black star pulsing under his skin, pulling at her and she couldn't help kicking at whatever was in his hands, something hard and metallic that went crashing against the wall. She could hear Mal coming down to the lower deck, his entire mind was filled with worry and anger.

"River," Simon was picking things up and River shuddered in her man's arms. Her Riddick had her but even his mind couldn't immediately counteract nearly a month of tension and worry

"I got you baby," Riddick's hands weren't hard or too firm, they simply petted her hair, her skin, trying to ease the animal's fear.

River couldn't stop her trembling, caught in the vicious cycle as she spiraled between fight or flight, unable to do either. Mal entered the lounge and she stared, he was tall, backlit by the windows of the bright infirmary, "You're not him?" She shook her head, "Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze."

She could feel Riddick's amusement and Mal's irritation as the Captain stopped his forward motion to stand in front of the three of them. "So, she's added cussing and hurling about of things to her repertoire. She really is a prodigy," He remarked sardonically.

"It's a bad day," Simon didn't try to explain. River knew he felt there was no point. He wouldn't lie and couldn't tell Mal the truth. That left prevarication.

Mal either couldn't tell or didn't care, concerned with other things, "No, a bad day is when someone's yellin' spooks the cattle. Understand?" He gestured towards the hold, "You ever see cattle stampede when they got no place to run? It's kind of like a...a meat grinder. And it'll lose us half the herd."

"She hasn't gone anywhere near the cattle," Simon was rolling his eyes, River could tell just from his voice.

"No," Mal conceded, but it was a victory short lived, "No, but in case you hadn't noticed, her voice kinda carries. We're two miles above ground and they can probably hear her down there. Soon as we unload, she can holler until our ears bleed." River could feel him looking at her and shivered wanting to burrow into Riddick's warmth and never come out, "Although I would take it as a kindness if she didn't."

The facts just spewed out of her mouth, disturbing in their accuracy and foreboding in meaning, "The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given adequate vacuuming systems."

He was still talking to Simon as if Riddick was a piece of furniture upon whom she sat, "See, morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like."

Simon was going to say something stupid, River knew it, "Please, please, please," She moaned and pushed her fingers against her skull.

Riddick's hand rubbed gently over the scars under her hair and his deep dark coffee and whiskey voice rumbled beneath her ear against his chest, "She's rubbin' at the scars under her hair." He told Mal in a voice quiet with his rage. "She does that when her head hurts so much she can't concentrate on anything but the pain," River whimpered slightly as his hand ceased moving and sighed in relief as it started again. "They cut into her brain cap'n. Dunno what they were aimin' for," Riddick's lie was without a sliver of remorse for deceiving Mal. "But now she hears too much, sees too much, can't not see or not hear. And thanks to your precious cattle she hasn't been able to maintain her routine. This is what happens when things go wrong. It could have been much worse. Now to see that noble and most sovereign reason, like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh."

River shook her head, "They don't know what they are, nameless, mindless blobs with hooves and tails, forgetting what they're meant to do. No sun, no sky, no grass, they don't understand and they're afraid and they won't stop pushing on me," She wept against Riddick's chest, hating that she was crying in front of Malcolm Reynolds. "Stayed away, didn't touch, no blood and skin, no casting auguries in entrails," She moaned. "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

"This is the work of government scientists who thought my sister's brain was a rutting playground," Simon told the captain coldly.

"Bottom line, River needs her katas, needs meditation and her routine, activity and quiet," Riddick said flatly. "I'm amazed she hasn't gone wobbly before this. But if you've got suggestions we're open to 'em."

Mal wasn't having any of it, "I'm not a doctor. And I'm not your gorramn baby-sitter, either. Gag her, if you have to. We got trade to be done." He looked at Riddick, "Gonna need all hands on this Rick, sooner we get the cattle out sooner we can hose down the bay an' she can get to exercisin' again."

River felt the growl in her mate's chest vibrate its way to his throat, "Better now," She whispered. "Richard should help with the beasts. She will be better on solid ground." She could feel Mal's anger and concern, outrage that anyone should be treated as she had been, worry in spite of his decision to remain distant that she was a child under his care and he could do nothing. "Doesn't want the responsibility but cannot help but worry. Broken doll, snapped her legs off so she couldn't twirl around anymore. Rather she wasn't here but she is and now she's his too, hides his worry under cold words."

Riddick wasn't pleased with Mal's behavior but didn't go after the captain, remaining in the lounge with River in his lap, "Just relax baby," River could feel his lips brush over her forehead. "He ain't here, you find my mind, hang onto me." His voice was soothing and gentle, "Be groundside in a bit, can enjoy the sun, feel warmth on your skin."

River felt the ship land and loosened her grip on Riddick's shirt, "Mate must go and work. She will remain within until the minds are without and then she and Simon will seek the burning rays." Forcing herself away from him was one of the harder things she'd done and she could read in his mind Riddick's anger rising on fury over leaving her vulnerable. "She will be fine. Survived Reavers. Can survive cows."

Simon's laugh defused the tension and he helped her out of Riddick's lap, "Sorry," The doctor apologized with a smile at them both. "It's just the idea that of all the things we've faced, Reaver space, the planet and monsters, Feds and slavers…canned goods and cows are what get us."

Riddick's dark chuckle was no less amused though it was obvious he still wasn't happy, "Yeah, guess that'd be sorta ironic." He was watching with a frown as River stood and wrapped her arms around her waist before he rose from the couch. "You find my mind an' use me to get your calm back angel," He commanded gently. His big hands clasped her shoulders and rubbed carefully as he laid tender kisses on her forehead, cheek and lips.

River felt part of her relax under his gentle ministrations, that awful fear that when she showed weakness she'd be repudiated for it fading away as her man proved to her that regardless of her foibles he still wanted her. "She will be well," She murmured softly. "Takes time."

"Yeah I know," Riddick's head came up at Mal's shout and the sound of Jayne's footsteps on the metal stairs. "Better get goin'," He sighed and pressed a soft kiss to her lips before he let go of her and headed into the bay. River remained where he'd left her for a moment, fixing in her mind the sensation of his lips on her skin, his arms and hands soothing her.

Riddick scowled darkly at the cattle as he finished setting up the corral. He had nothing against a good steak even if he hadn't much personal experience with that cuisine but the damn animals had thrown River out of her routine and his patience was at an end. Book was tying off his part of the corral and nodded to Riddick before he looked up the cargo bay ramp. Simon was carefully avoiding the cow pies on the ramp but Jayne was herding cattle past him and the doctor misjudged his step. Riddick sighed and rolled his eyes behind his goggles, "Really Cobh," He muttered.

Jayne was still almost chuckling, "'Bout time you broke in them pretty shoes," He lightly smacked a rope against a cow's haunch, "Yah! Get along!"

"You know they walk just as easy if you lead 'em," Mal told his big gun hand.

Jayne was still in a decent mood, "I like smackin' 'em."

Riddick looked at Book and received a half smile from the shepherd, the older man remarking, "Hope this corral's strong enough to hold them. 'Shepherd's a purely figurative title, you know."

The escaped murderer nodded with a half quirk of his lips that would serve as his smile until his woman was feeling better. River had come out with Wash and Zoe, and while the married couple had seated themselves on the top of the corral railing River had seated herself on the ground, looking at a calf.

Zoe was shaking her head over the mess and the amount of livestock they'd smuggled, "Next time we smuggle stock, let's make it something smaller," She suggested with a chuckle.

Wash nodded his agreement, "Yeah, we should start dealing in those black-market beagles." He looked down at River, "You have some thoughts on an alternative to cattle River?"

River tilted her head to squint up at Wash, "Goats or pigs would be better. Goats give milk too, smaller and easier to pick up. Mate could carry four easily." She frowned and added, "Males of the species can be problematic though."

"Honey that's true of any species," Zoe drawled with the air of a woman who knows of what she speaks.

River's giggle did something to Riddick's heart, he hadn't heard it in what seemed like forever, he felt that atrophied organ twist in warm pleasure at the sound. "Maybe human males and other lesser life forms," She teased back. "My Furyan gives me no trouble."

"None?" Wash chuckled, "Didn't you engineer a bar fight so he'd be entertained?"

"Not any trouble though," River retorted with a smile. The calf moved, staring at her now, meeting her eyes. "Little soul, big world. Eat, sleep, and eat... Many souls."

Riddick's lips quirked again, she was being mystifying on purpose so Mal would be irritated, he could smell the tequila on her that meant she was joking. He moved so he was standing on her other side, felt her hand slip up to caress and squeeze his leg as she looked at the baby cow.

Mal rolled his eyes at Jayne, "Cattle on the ship more'n three weeks, she don't go near 'em. Suddenly we're on Jiangyin and she's got a driving need to commune with the beast?"

River shook her head as she stared at the young thing, "They weren't cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are."

The captain smelt strongly of confused understanding, an odd combination on anyone but it blended with Mal's normal scent fairly well. Riddick got the feeling Mal spent a lot of time in that particular state of mind. The Browncoat regarded Jayne again, "Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?" He regarded River then, "C'mon, now. Let's get you clear of the work."

Simon was slowly walking towards them, "What's going on?" Riddick took a deep breath and hoped Simon wasn't going to cause trouble in a misguided attempt to protect his sister. "What are you doing?"

Mal was shaking his head, his expression and voice eminently reasonable, "I'm fixing to do some business. Can't be herding these steers and your sister, too."

"She didn't mean any harm," Simon protested slanting a quick glance at Riddick. "And she's with Rick."

"I never figured she did. But when a man engages in clandestine dealings, he has his preference for things being smooth," Mal shook his head. "She makes things not be smooth," He indicated Rick with one hand, "And I told ya'll before I need Rick doin' his job, not babysittin'."

Simon was deeply pissed but it only showed as a slight snippy tone as he addressed the captain, "Right. I'm very sorry if she tipped off anyone about your cunningly concealed herd of cows."

Riddick watched as Mal began to guide Simon away from the corral and rolled his eyes as the captain began to speak, his tone not quite condescending but unmistakably determined. "I'm starting to think you got a little too much time on your hands, doctor. I think now I got a notion regarding that. Why don't you take your sister for a little walk."

Simon was now irritated and flummoxed, "A walk?"

"Yeah," Mal nodded, "Someplace... away."

Simon was shaking his head, "Uh, probably best we stay close. Alliance has us marked as fugitives."

Riddick sighed as Mal had an answer for that too, "Closest Alliance is the Cruiser Magellan. Hours out from here. And I promise you, they ain't coming to a backwater like Jiang."

"Still," Simon prevaricated, "I'm not sure it's such a wise suggestion."

Mal's tone hardened slightly, "Might not wanna mistake it for a suggestion." He waited a moment to be sure Simon had understood him, "Don't worry, we won't leave without ya."

River tilted her head and stood as Simon's scent blasted frustrated anger to Riddick's nose. Mal turned away from the doctor and pointed at River, gesturing for her to follow her brother. River sighed, "She would not be much help if she stayed."

Riddick bent and pressed a kiss to the top of her head, "Just remember your breathin', an' keep hold a me if you gotta. Ain't far from you ever bǎo bǎo."

"She will be careful," River looked up towards the hills. "Be wary of the watchers in the hills. They take what is not theirs and do not care for interference."

"Watchers in the hills," Riddick frowned. "Settlers up there?"

"Not...quite," River shook her head her frown echoing his. "They're greedy."

"River, you'd better get to steppin'," Zoe advised softly. "Cap'n's got that look. Kaylee an' Inara went on to town, mayhaps you an' Simon could meet up with them."

River nodded and turned expectantly to Riddick who grinned down at her, "Always gotta have your kiss goodbye." He leaned down and pressed a good hot kiss to her lips. "Don't you go findin' any fellas to replace me." He teased, her mouth under his lightening his mood like nothing else.

"Richard is unique, irreplaceable," River assured him with a grin. "Love you bàng jiār."

"Love you too zhī yīn," Riddick murmured and watched her dart off to catch up with Simon. Her dancers legs flew over the ground.

"Gorram that girl's fast...runs like a doe," Jayne remarked appreciatively. He slanted a teasing look at Riddick, "Course ain't like she's the one hunted, what moves fast an' hunts deer?"

"Wolf," Riddick smiled, a fully wicked stretch of his lips that revealed white teeth. "My woman's a wolf, same as me."

"Mated for life," Jayne nodded his understanding and was silent. Riddick nodded his agreement and stood with his friend, enjoying the silence and the day. The breeze was mild, the sun was warm, the world smelt good to his nose, even with all the damn cow manure, and River had laughed. He made a mental note to be nicer to Wash and Zoe, they had a habit of making River smile.

Author's Note: So we've started 'Safe' and Mal's beginning to realize that maybe he's not the only one with an awful past. On a curious note, what do you all think of Riddick's little chat with Inara. I realize it must seem nosy and a little out of character for him to be even interested in someone else's love life let alone Mal's but keep in mind, his only concern is himself, River, Simon and Jayne. Everyone else is peripheral and neutral and he really isn't too interested except for how they'll effect he and his little pack. If Mal and Inara implode that could mean trouble for him. So with as smart as he is, my Riddick is figuring on some preemptive strikes to head off his captain's potential harm.

Keep in mind that as Captain (according to maritime law and the research I've done on the 'Verse) Mal has absolute control over the ship. He's also legally responsible for anything that occurs on it legal or otherwise. Riddick isn't unaware of this so he doesn't want Mal to go nuts and start throwing them all into situations where they'll get killed because he isn't thinking clearly. That doesn't sound like Mal does it? Oh yeah, wait it does (cough, Miranda, cough, Reavers). But at last Mal is getting away from his asshat behavior somewhat right?

We're going to see a little more of this in coming episodes and 'Safe' is one of my faves because of its potential for change. So I hope you all enjoy and I'd love your opinions.

Chinese Translations:

gāi sǐ - damned/wretched

mèi mei - little sister

liàn rén - lover/sweetheart

chī xiàn - crazy/insane

bǎ xiōng dì - sworn brothers

bǎo bǎo - darling/baby

bàng jiār - lover/partner

zhī yīn - soul mate

Script Translations:

Liou coe shway duh biao-tze huh hoe-tze duh ur-tze - Stupid son of a drooling whore and a monkey

Quote Sources:

Disinclined to acquiesce to your request. – Captain Barbosa – Pirates of the Caribbean

Means 'no' – Captain Barbosa – Pirates of the Caribbean

Tremble, thou wretch, that has within thee undivulged crimes, unwhipped of justice. – King Lear – William Shakespeare

I am a man more sinned against than sinning. – King Lear – William Shakespeare

Now to see that noble and most sovereign reason, like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh. – Hamlet – William Shakespeare

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. – Paradise Lost – Milton