31) Dare To Dream It Could Be

Riddick and River were sitting in the lounge with Jayne when Mal and Shazza came in, Shazza shaking her head and laughing at Mal. Shazza's spencer jacket was unbuttoned and she was in the process of shrugging it off as she entered the passenger lounge, "Rick, you and River didn't mention your captain would spend half the night trying to flirt with other women." She remarked as she took a seat next to River.

"Didn't know he had that habit," Riddick tilted his head towards Mal catching a whiff of the captain's chagrin. "Mal, we send you out with a lady, our friend, and you neglect her half the evening when you're supposed to be on a first date?"

Mal flipped his coattails behind him and sat on the ottoman to regard his two gun men and expert consultant before he replied, "Picked a few pockets. Stole a few necklaces, figured if one man's things went missing it would be less suspicious if his weren't the only ones." He looked over at Shazza, "This one kept chatting up all the men, talking about the auction."

Riddick watched as River narrowed her eyes at Mal, "Exceeded mission parameters." She murmured, "Let me see the jewelry." Mal fished some sparkly things and a string of pearls out of his pocket and handed them over. River carefully laid the pieces out on the table in front of her, and took a deep breath. One by one she picked them up and examined them, silk and blood flaring hot in her scent as she used what the Academy had done to her to determine if the jewelry was safe to keep.

Citrus bloomed through her scent and Riddick sat forward, "River." He looked at the necklace she held, a double stand of chocolate pearls.

"Cannot keep these," River murmured softly. "Passed down, five generations, treasured beyond wealth." She set them aside and picked up a ruby pendant, shrugging over it before she fingered a chain of braided gold and peridot. Finally she tilted her head, "All but the pearls are fine for you to sell." She said finally.

"How'd you know that about the pearls," Mal didn't question her conclusion, Riddick was pleased to note that apparently Mal could learn new tricks.

"Tagged," River was lying, effortlessly but it was a lie. Riddick would have heard the buzz or whine of a tag on any jewelry.

Shazza was regarding River shrewdly but didn't contradict her, "I'll take the pearls by a good pawnshop on my way back." She offered. "He sends tagged jewelry to the honest Feds. It'll get back to the rightful owner."

"How'd you know they was tagged though," Mal was a little confused.

"We can hear tags Mal," Riddick told him with a shrug. "Like I can hear a cortex is on, a camera is around or any sort of electronics. Makes this high pitched buzz, sounds like a whine, like a mosquito or something."

"That's all sortsa handy," The captain rose. "You all get everything you needed?"

"And then some," Riddick nodded. "Little bit of wandering around tomorrow, buy a few things needed. Visit with Ruby and we'll be good."

"Yeah," Mal looked at Shazza. "You seem sensible enough. Badger really qualified to take on a child like Ruby?"

Shazza's chuckle was low and wicked and Riddick could smell the lust that hit Mal at the sound of it, "You don't know my cousin too well Captain Reynolds. He's the oldest of six kids, youngest was twelve years younger than him. He's more than qualified. He lost family before the war. His sister after him and her children were killed in a terraforming disaster."

Riddick turned sharply as the scent of burnt cinnamon hit his nose, River was simply staring into space, shivering, "Qīng Xiāng, what's wrong?"

"Blue," River shook her head, the scent of her fear nearly overpowering. "They'll come when you call," She shuddered and Riddick couldn't remember moving but he was picking her up and wrapping her in his arms. "Richard, they'll come, take us back, take us away..." She buried her face in his neck. "All the kings horses and all the kings men... broken. Broken like an egg on the ground filled with chocolate and shiny bits and all the things they put inside her."

"River I've got you," Riddick kissed her forehead, her cheek. "We're on Serenity, we're safe." He reminded her gently.

"Ain't lettin' Alliance on this boat River," Mal's voice was the most reassuring Riddick had ever heard it. "Gimme half a day to arrange some work, we won't even be on planet no more."

"They put things in," River shuddered in Riddick's embrace. "Need to take them out."

"Yeah," Riddick sighed. "Yeah I know." He looked at Mal, "I'm gonna take her back to our bunk." Jayne stood and grabbed River's cortex and the bag of equipment, following him. "Thanks Jayne," Riddick muttered quietly.

"Figure she wouldn't be so worn out if you two weren't helpin' me," Jayne shrugged as he followed them up the stairs, nearly as silent as Riddick. "She needs about twelve hours sleep it sounds like. Good sparrin' and work out session too."

"Jayne has the right of it," River's whisper was pained but the smell of burnt cinnamon was easing. "Meditation, katas, strength training...must follow routine, quell the secrets rising."

"We'll do that," Riddick nodded. "Just rest now tiān shǐ." He helped her down the ladder and took the bags Jayne handed him before shutting the hatch. River's tired hands were stroking down his back and he could still smell citrus on her skin.

"She wants nothing more than her mate," River sighed and Riddick wrapped her in his arms again before he kissed her forehead. "But she knows without the contraceptive they will merely be frustrated."

"Yeah," Riddick groaned. "And you need to rest more than you need a shot," He watched as she dragged off her work clothes and sat heavily down on the bed. "Why don't I give you a rubdown, take care of those muscles that were bothering you. Like to get my hands and mouth on you liàn rén."

River's scent of citrus mixed with honey and Riddick smiled as he pulled off his clothes and grabbed a tube of lotion. There weren't many scents that both he and River liked but she'd managed to find something that wasn't too heavy and didn't clash with her body chemistry. And there were worse things that River's skin smelling like cookies for a little while. And after what seemed like a month of work crammed into a week it would be good to just get her to relax and turn off her brain for a bit.

"Love you my Riddick," River murmured as he scooped her up and pulled the quilts back, laying her flat on the sheets to give her the massage she needed. Soon all he could think of was her scent and her skin and the wonderful sound of her sighs and moans as her pain eased and pleasure built. By the time his hands and mouth were done with her she was boneless, satiated and he'd lost control, spilling his seed over her belly after she'd fallen.

"My woman," Riddick gave both their bodies a quick clean up and wrapped her in his arms, skin to skin under the quilts. "Time to rest zhì 'ài. Time to let me protect you."

"Hmmm...my Riddick," River's sleepy sigh was still possessive as hell and always sent a flush of pleased heat through his chest. His last thought before he closed his eyes was that he wouldn't ever let her get away from him.

River looked at her brother and tilted her head, he was still behaving very properly towards Kaylee but just relaxed enough that the pretty mechanic understood that he wanted more. It was funny how frustrated Kaylee got with core manners and how hard Simon had to work to relax his behavior just enough to make sure Kaylee knew he liked her but not so much that he was behaving improperly since he hadn't gotten Riddick's permission to act informally around Kaylee yet. Right now though Simon was more concerned with her request for birth control.

"You want me to put you on a contraceptive prescription," Simon repeated her request slowly. He put the data pad he was holding down and tilted his head. "When I offered before you flinched away at the thought of a needle."

"Been considering it," River said quietly. "Don't like needles after what they did, but schedules are erratic, work interferes with my routine, cannot afford to miss a pill if I take an oral contraceptive." She considered a moment and continued, "A manual contraceptive would be rejected by the animal and quite frankly even if Riddick could ignore the animal long enough to use one I wouldn't want him to."

"Then you're seriously considering consummating your relationship with Riddick," Simon frowned. "Are you certain that's wise?"

River stared at her brother and didn't need to read him to know what was going through his mind. He worried that a new medication would upset the delicate balance of her system. He was afraid sex would overwhelm her mind, unaware that she'd been 'overhearing' the emotions of Zoe and Wash since she'd woken from cryo. "Already fairly intimate with my Richard," She pointed out. "Engaging in coitus should not have an adverse effect."

"But the hormones from the contraceptive could disturb your system," Simon shook his head. "I wasn't thinking of those sorts of consequences when I offered you the shot the first time. I was only thinking that a pregnancy could be dangerous to you."

"You ain't the only one," Riddick's dark chocolate and coffee voice spoke from the doorway of the infirmary. "But they put her on all sortsa stuff at the Academy Doc, it was only the last few months that she started getting unstable again. Don't think it was the drugs that did it."

River nodded in confirmation of what her partner was saying, "Whatever psychosis, if that's what you want to call my unstable times, that I suffer from, it isn't brought on by hormones. I was fine with the shot you gave me on planet. I don't like needles, but I can deal with them now and then if it means putting Richard's mind at ease and keeps me from getting pregnant before we're ready."

"If you notice any changes, any ill effects, promise me that you'll come to me," Simon looked at them both. "This shot will last a full six months so it takes a week to go into effect. I'll set a reminder that you'll need another then."

River nodded, "Promises, any problems, we'll tell you." She smiled at her brother, "She is grateful her gē ge is understanding of her needs."

"You're my sister River, I just want you to be happy," Simon shrugged and looked at Riddick as he moved behind River and wrapped his arms around her middle while he readied the shot. "My choice for you would not have been an escaped convict with a history of violence and murder but my choice isn't what's important. I know Riddick will put your life above his, and that matters to me."

"I put her before anyone else on the boat or in the 'verse," Riddick's voice was like fur brushing over her skin and River sighed with pleasure. "That's just how it is."

"I know she feels the same about you," Simon tilted his head as he regarded the two of them; "This shot can't go in your arm River. I need you to lower your trousers and bend over slightly."

"Shot in the ass," River giggled at the thought and did as he said, vividly conscious of Riddick's eyes roving over her exposed flesh even as he turned his body to hide her from the doorway.

"Slight pinch," Simon was quick and deft with any sort of needle, she barely felt it go in. A tiny sting as the contraceptive was injected and then an icy sensation as Simon dotted the area with a numbing salve and put a bandage over it. "And you're good."

Riddick's hands tugged her trousers up and caressed her skin as she straightened, keeping her in his arms and dropping a kiss on her head. The question he asked Simon wasn't one she'd thought of though she should have expected Riddick would, "After River and me have been together, should I bring her down to you for an exam?" The big man asked worriedly, "I read that after a girl's first time, she's s'posed to get an exam, make sure nothin' untoward happened to her innards."

"Ah, you mean if there was any tearing or internal bruising," Simon nodded his understanding. "Riddick since you're able to smell blood, and you know when she's in pain, I expect you'd know if she needed an exam. But unless River's in pain, then no, she won't need to get up on my table." He tapped his datapad meaningfully, "I've got all of her medical records here, and there's no reason sex with you should harm her in anyway." The doctor smiled a bit wickedly, "Not unless there's something about you that's more closely related to a horse than a man."

"My bàng jiār is gifted," River giggled again and was rewarded with a mental groan from her love. "But he will not harm her."

"Then neither of you need to worry," Simon shrugged. "Honestly Riddick, I'd be more worried about you. River tends to obsess about everything; you might not leave your bunk for days."

Riddick's low wicked chuckle sent shivers over her skin, "And you think that's a problem Doc? You gotta step up your courtship of Kaylee if that's how you think."

The core doctor just smiled, "I haven't earned forgiveness yet." He said quietly, "So my courtship, of necessity, proceeds slowly."

Anything else they might have wanted to discuss was derailed as Jayne poked his head in the infirmary, "Hey ya'll need to get up to the galley, Mal's got us a job."

"Somewhere civilized?" Simon sounded hopeful and Jayne rolled his eyes at him.

"We barely left Persephone and you want more civilization? You're on the wrong boat doc," The gun hand sneered more out of habit than malice.

"We'll be right there," Riddick nodded and River smiled.

"Mal said specific for you to come River," Jayne added. "Wants your, uh...insight, I think he said it was."

"Happy to help," River grinned and laughed aloud when Riddick scooped her up and began to carry her out of the infirmary and up the stairs. Entering the galley in Riddick's arms incited a confused look from Zoe and a concerned question from Kaylee.

"She is fine Kaylee," River smiled. "My Riddick simply enjoys carrying me."

"He do tote you around a lot," Jayne observed with a roll of his eyes. "Did we get more tea when we was dirtside? I put it on the list."

"Upper cabinet, to the left," The Reader informed him with a smile. "She would like a cup too please."

"Figured," Jayne found the canister and began making tea as Mal began to explain the job. Book and Simon wandered in after a while, the shepherd working on a meal that had apparently been in progress while Simon sat next to Kaylee and presented her with an origami flower.

After a moment Inara came out of her shuttle and joined them, seating herself gracefully in the empty chair next to Zoe, not terribly far away from Mal but not beside him either. River looked thoughtfully at the Companion, Inara wasn't feeling well today, everything ached and she was longing for tea with whiskey in it to ease the tension her disease caused in her muscles. "Inara, would like to speak with you please, after dinner," She asked quietly.

Riddick looked at her and inhaled sharply, catching the scent of Inara's pain, a frown marring his handsome face, "Need me for this conversation," Was all he asked.

River shook her head and leaned closer to kiss his cheek and whisper, "Inara's muscles tense and jump, she needs whiskey and a massage. Intend to offer the latter."

"Here you go," Jayne put a mug of tea down in front of River and set his own at his spot next to her. "Rick you want any?"

"Yeah if you'll put some whiskey in it," Riddick chuckled and was given a strange look by Mal. "I don't drink overmuch, you may have noticed, but a finger or two of whiskey along with tea is nice."

Jayne's eyes narrowed at Riddick but River shook her head slightly to divert him from the question he wanted to ask, "We got some, iffen you're serious."

"Thought you didn't drink Rick," Mal asked curiously.

"Now and then a finger a whiskey with tea, or a beer or two, yeah," Riddick shrugged comfortably. "I can't drink whiskey straight, or to excess. Animal likes that about as well as it does drugs." He tilted his head at Jayne, "So how about it?"

"I'll get it," River stood and glanced at Inara, "Inara would you like some tea?"

"Please, that would be lovely," Inara's beautiful smile showed no sign of the strain she was be feeling. River nodded and rose to fetch the tea and whiskey. It wasn't hard to pour two fingers of the alcohol into the teacup and then pour the tea. Setting the cup in front of Inara and the bottle in front of Riddick she took her place again. "So apart from the possibility of being outnumbered, there doesn't seem to be much that can go wrong with Mal's plan," She commented.

"That don't mean something won't go wrong," Jayne grumbled. "Somethin' always does."

Wash chuckled as Mal began clearing his visual aids off the table to make way for dinner, "We do seem to have the worst luck that way." The pilot admitted, "Wasn't there some talk of Book saying a blessing over Serenity to counteract Mal's bad luck?"

"I'm fair certain that any blessing I could give would have to be well received by her captain," Book said as he brought over a platter of rice and vegetables. "So I'm afraid that while I can bless you all individually as you wish, blessing the ship herself would do little good."

"I'd feel better if you'd just say a little prayer over that compression coil," Kaylee muttered with a rebellious look at her captain.

"Anyone else like a blessing?" Book asked a bit whimsically, "Riddick? River?"

From the shocked expression on his face he was completely unprepared for their voices to speak in unison, a growl from Riddick underscoring their words, "No."

"I see," The shepherd blinked in surprise. "The two of you don't believe in God then?"

"Considerin' the last planet we was on wanted to burn her at the stake 'cause a God, don't think Rick's really feelin' too friendly towards the Almighty," Mal offered an explanation.

"That's one reason, but it's not the right one," Simon shook his head as he rose and held Kaylee's chair for her. When Mal and Book both looked at him, the doctor shrugged, "As I understand it, both my brother and sister believe in God."

"Not that I'm one to get in the way of anybody's religion or lack of it, so long as God don't come on my boat," Mal tilted his head at Simon curiously, "But I ain't quite gettin' the problem."

"Absolutely believe in God," Riddick slowly repeated the words he'd spoken on planet.

River slid her hand into his, as she finished what he'd said, "And we absolutely hate the fucker."

The shock of their words along with their cool expressions had half the crew gaping at them; Jayne included, "Hell Rick, you ain't never said you minded me-"

Riddick cut him off with a shrug, "I don't care what other people believe or don't Cobh." He said quietly. "Pray or don't, Buddha or God or whatever you want to call Him... it makes no difference to me. But gettin' a blessing from a preacher or whatever spoke over me, that's askin' for things of someone never had a care for me. I gotta believe. Got no choice in that. But belief don't mean love. Just means I believe. Got no use for God and he none for me."

"I don't quite understand," Book admitted, and there were nods all around the table from everyone but Jayne, Simon and Mal.

River hated how these conversations made her mate feel, closed in and bombarded with good intentions that led to hell, the weight of everyone wanting to 'save' him. "Think someone can spend half their life in the slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe?" She spoke slowly and clearly, her hand gripped tightly in Riddick's fingers, "Think he could start out in some trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe?" She looked at the faces around the table, horrified and pained as if they'd heard anew all the torture she and her mate had undergone at the academy. "By the same logic, and the same sympathy, how could she not believe after being abandoned by her parents to torture and eventual death? To rape and experiments? After men, followers of that self same God, decided to turn the girl's mind into their plaything? Always believed. Logic insists that God exists. Logic does not insist that the girl and her mate must love God."

"Huh," Mal blinked at her thoughtfully and then at Rick, "Well this is all becomin' a bit too philosophical for me." He looked at Book, "Told you once shepherd, you're welcome on my boat. God ain't."

"I understand," Book was shaken, River could tell he found their revelations disturbing and saddening but he would pray and seek solace with his God. He would never try to insist on reconciling she and her mate with the Almighty. That was all she could ask.

"Good, now if you gotta say a blessing over the food say it to yourself," Mal instructed. "But do it after ya'll have passed the plates around. Smells good, so let's eat it while its hot."

"Thank you for cooking," Riddick looked at Book. "Even if you do pray over the food as you're making it," The convict smirked mischievously and River smiled.

"Inara," River murmured her friends name as she entered the shuttle. The Companion's voice had been tired as she'd called for River to enter and that Inara hadn't greeted her at the door said more about the older woman's fatigue than anything else. Inara rarely allowed her disease to interfere with her manners.

"I'm sorry River, I don't think I'm up to a conversation," Inara's exhausted voice said from her couch.

River shook her head and walked towards Inara, "You're in pain and the whiskey helped some but not enough. You need a massage. Riddick will be here in a minute to help me. Between the two of us we can make sure your muscles are relaxed, not twitching and painful."

"River, its not necessary," Inara argued wearily.

The slender girl frowned at her friend and counselor, Inara even looked exhausted and she never looked tired. The disease must be taking a toll today, "When did you last have your medication?"

"I haven't today," Inara shook her head. "I can't take it every day or I'll build up an immunity. I'm low on it anyway so it works out." She sighed, "Not that I don't trust you River, but I don't know about letting Riddick give me a massage. It's not in my nature to give anyone else control."

River nodded her understanding but it was Riddick's voice who answered the Companion, "I don't need to control you Inara. I don't feel desire for you, and I got no need to bend you to my will. You've helped River an' me. This is something we can do for you."

"You two know how to give a massage," The dark eyes were curious in spite of her fatigue as she regarded the two of them.

"Knowledge of musculature is extensive," River nodded. "Inara should remove her clothing, lie on her bed, pillows under her collarbone please." She stripped off her shoes and long jacket before she picked up the bottle of vanilla orchid oil she'd found on Persephone. She was painfully aware of Riddick toeing off his boots and pulling his shirt over his head. Her mate was so handsome it was almost impossible for her to not react physically to the sight of him. Inara had stripped completely and now was stretched out on her bed. River looked at Riddick to see him watching Inara with a thoughtful expression. A touch of her mind to his had her smiling; her mate was remembering her stretched out for him on this same bed.

River gently touched Inara's cheek, "She will make certain Inara feels better." She promised, "Her friend will not suffer. And we will play a game, stimulate the mind and relax the body."

"A game?" Inara was almost smiling at the thought, "I don't think I could manage hoop ball now River."

"Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." Riddick's voice was low and soothing as his hands began to rub Inara's calves.

"Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson," Inara recognized the verse and River smiled.

"See? A game," She teased her friend gently. "Would you like to give us a quote?"

"Hmm..." Inara thought for a moment, "No cheating River." She teased the Reader back before she gave her quote, "If thou could'st empty all thyself of self, like to a shell dishabited, then might He find thee on the ocean shelf, and say, 'This is not dead,' and fill thee with Himself instead. But thou are all replete with very thou and hast such shrewd activity, that when He comes He says, 'This is enow unto itself - 'twere better let it be, it is so small and full, there is no room for me.'"

"Sir Thomas Browne," Riddick answered after a moment.

River smiled and began to think of her quote, "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man I am not for him."

Inara laughed a little and gave the quote's source, "Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare." She smiled.

They'd succeeded in relaxing the muscles of Inara's back and she'd just turned over, a cloth covering her breasts and hips. Riddick was kneeling between her legs, one of her feet on his thigh as he gently rubbed the muscles of her ankle while Inara's head rested in River's lap. River was giving Inara a scalp massage, and she could feel Inara's pain and tension draining away when the door opened.

"What in the name of the dear an' fluffy lord is goin' on?" Mal's voice was unwelcome and shocked in the deliberately quiet atmosphere of the shuttle. Inara moaned as the captain's voice intruded, River could feel the pain that sliced through the Companion, a throbbing behind her eyes.

Carefully removing Inara's head from her lap River slid off the bed and stalked silently over to the captain, "Get out." She hissed pushing the bigger man back. "Out of here."

Through Mal's surprised reaction and her admittedly powerful force of will she backed him out of the shuttle and shut the door behind her. "You have no right to come into a Companion's shuttle when she's with clients," River hissed. "How dare you intrude on our therapy? We're finally getting better, Riddick can actually touch someone else without feeling as if he's betraying me. I don't have the urge to kill Inara when he's touching her."

"That's what this is?" Mal stared over her shoulder at the shuttle door, "Your therapy?"

"Inara was suffering from a migraine, everything hurt. Since we had therapy anyway I suggested that we massage her," River continued the lie she'd begun. "It served dual purposes, we get our therapy and Inara's pain was relieved."

"Why did she have to be naked for you to massage her," Mal folded his arms.

"You can't massage through clothing, you need scented oils, hands on skin," River rolled her eyes at him. "Why did you come into her shuttle anyway? You knew we were talking."

"I needed to-" Mal broke off and shook his head.

"Why would you try to pursue her?" River wanted to know, "She's a Companion. She can't take a lover who isn't a client. Any sort of personal relationship is forbidden by the guild. They probably wouldn't even approve of her friendship with Kaylee."

"That's just..." The captain blinked at her.

"Its the life she chose," River tried to explain. "You might not have any respect for her job but Inara chose this. She chose this life. It is a calling, like Simon has to be a doctor or Wash has to fly. She has a great gift of healing, through intimacy or conversation. But it means she isn't free to give her heart."

"So she's like a priest?" Mal wanted to understand, she could tell, but he was sore confused.

"In a way," River nodded. "It might help you to deal with her more if you considered her a priest. She's just as off limits. And you'll only break your heart if you fall in love with her."

"I always thought we had-"

"Chemistry? A connection?" River tilted her head and smiled, "Its part of her training to attract. Even Book finds her attractive, likes her. She does her best to repress that part of her training when she's around the crew because she won't ever be with any of you sexually."

"So it's just me reacting to the Companion," Mal said heavily.

"No, you like Inara, because she's a lovely, compassionate and kind woman," The Reader replied gently. "But you can never be anything more than friends. It's unkind to press her for more and it's cruel to mock her for being what she is. Yes, the guild can be political just as any organization can, but Inara isn't her guild. I know she would gladly be your friend, and she even cares for you, but to press for more… Mal it's just…mean. And unkind. And when you barge in you show disrespect for her work, her home, for her."

"So, knock first?" Mal took a deep breath and looked at the shuttle door. "She gonna be all right with me interrupting?"

"I'll need to restart the scalp massage but I think so with a good night's rest," River nodded. "Mal, just...be her friend. That's what she needs."

"Tell her I'm sorry for the interruption," The captain sighed. "Another day and we'll be on Triumph. Plannin' on Beaumonde afterwards."

"I'll let her know," River nodded. "I'd better get back to her."

Riddick looked at his woman thoughtfully, his talk with Inara after the duel on Persephone had helped as the Companion had stopped subtly encouraging the Captain's infatuation. River's talk with Mal had made him see that a Companion was more akin to a priest than a whore, and just as ineligible for romance. "So you sure you're all right with staying on the boat," He asked as he slid his shivs into their sheaths.

"No room for her in the wagon," River shrugged. "No point in swimming alongside," She ran her hands over his sides and back checking the fit of his gun belt and shoulder harness. "She and Wash will monitor the situation. Prepare a mask for Serenity just in case."

"Good thought," Riddick caught her in his arms and kissed her, loving how her lips felt under his. She was soft and sweet and in less than a week they'd try to make love again. "Not much longer tiān shǐ, until we can try," He felt her shiver in delight at the thought, honey bright in her scent. There was a little thread of sage to her scent, she wasn't telling him everything, was actively hiding something. "River?"

"Cannot wait to be with my Riddick, my Richard," River murmured against his mouth. "Mal comes to find you though," She sighed as he reluctantly let her go and finished check his guns and knives.

"Yeah," Riddick pulled the hatch of their bunk open and began to climb out, River following him up, still trying to figure out that ribbon of sage to her scent. "I'm comin' Mal, you don't gotta come and shout down the hall," He told the captain as Mal appeared at the galley door.

"You know it's a mite disconcertin' you tellin' me I don't gotta do what I'm fixin' to do," Mal blustered. "Wash, we close enough yet?"

"Within spitting distance," Wash hollered back. "You should be good to go."

Riddick chuckled and grabbed River up for one last kiss, "You be good Qīng Xiāng."

"You be bad my láng," River laughed as he kissed her again and set her down with an affectionate smack to her ass.

"Always am," Riddick told her as he followed Mal out. The honey and tequila of her scent followed him all the way down to the planet.

"Rick, you keep your mind on the job," Mal admonished.

"Don't see why, it ain't like I'm liable to miss a bunch of thieves comin' up on us. Give you warning when they're near a mile out depending on their horses," Riddick reminded his captain of his superior hearing. "I am startin' to see why you left the details of this little plan out when you were tellin' us the job."

Jayne shook his head, "How'd you think I feel about it?" He looked the captain up and down, "You are crazier than I ever thought River was."

Mal shook his head, "It's a cunnin' disguise. They'll never see it comin'."

"Gotta say sir, that problem with your brain being missin'," Zoe was checking her ammo supply, "I'm wondering if it's makin' a reappearance."

"No respect," Mal muttered as he finished donning his disguise and stomped towards the wagon.

Riddick looked at Zoe and nodded holding up his hand and five fingers, the first mate called quietly to Mal, "Riddick says they're only five minutes away at most now."

He tilted his head listening as the horsemen drew closer, nodding to Zoe and was rewarded with a nod in return as her ears caught the same sound he had, rhythmic splashing, horses trotting through the river they were traveling on. Then it was obvious that the bandits had arrived, the smell of horseflesh was stronger, overlaid with sweat and gun oil, and to make it very plain to he and Zoe one of the men began talking. "Pardon me for intruding, but I believe y'all carrying something of mine."

Riddick smiled to himself as Jayne began to play his part of a trader, "T'ain't your'n!" His voice was a bit shaky as if he was rattled by the appearance of the bandits.

"Did you think we wouldn't find out you changed your route?" The bandit sounded smug, "You're gonna give us whats due us, and every damn thing else on that boat. And I think maybe you're gonna give me a little one-on-one time with the missus."

Riddick could smell Jayne's amusement and knew that the big merc was going to poke fun at Mal and the bandit at the same time. This should be good, "Oh, I think you might wanna reconsider that last part. See, I married me a powerful ugly creature."

Riddick and Zoe exchanged amused looks as Mal's voice rang out, high pitched and indignant, "How can you say that? How can you shame me in front of new people?"

Zoe to her credit, did not start laughing but it was close. Riddick could tell she was fighting to remain stoic as Jayne shot back, "If I could make you purtier, I would."

Mal's voice sounded hurt and appalled, appropriate considering he'd donned a prairie dress and bonnet for the little charade, "You are not the man I met a year ago." The clicking of guns didn't quite stifle Riddick's amusement at the conversation but they did signal to he and Zoe that imminent violence was possibly upon them. "Now think real hard," The captain's voice was firm as he addressed the bandits, "You been bird-dogging this township a while now. They wouldn't mind a corpse of you. Now you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you."

Riddick took a deep breath, inhaling and looked at Zoe, shaking his head; the bandits weren't going to go quietly along to a jail cell, no matter how luxurious. And then, as if he hadn't given Zoe enough warning, the bandit shouted, "Take 'em!"

That was his cue to lean around Jayne's side of the wagon and shoot the nearest bandit dead in the heart while Zoe did the same thing on Mal's side. In a matter of moments every horseman was dead.

Riddick climbed out of the wagon and began to strip the bodies of valuables, clicking reassuringly at the frightened horses. "Jayne hand the reins off to your wife an' gimme a hand with the horses," He called as Zoe picked herself up out of the shallow water. "Damn Zoe, if you'd a told me you had the urge I coulda shoved you out halfway down the river. I just didn't think Wash'd like river water as a perfume."

"Rick your sense a humor leaves a bit to be desired," Zoe rolled her eyes as she dried and holstered her mare's leg. "Anybody got work for the doc?"

"We're all fine here," Mal looked at Jayne and then down at his unspotted dress. "Rick's got the right idea; let's gather up what we can. Ain't like Elder Gommen has a lot of cashy money to pay us."

Before the captain could say anything else a slender figure climbed down from a tree, a rifle over her shoulder, "Didn't even get to take a shot." She pouted up at Riddick.

"Coulda told you that," Riddick chuckled and kissed her. "That's what you get for hornin' in."

"Would love to know how you conjured this'd be the spot," Mal told his youngest sub-contractor. "And don't think it's escaped my notice that you weren't exactly invited to this little shindig. How'd you get here?"

"Shortest distance between two points is a straight line," River shrugged at him. "And crashing a party makes it more fun. If you'd needed me you would have been glad I was there."

"She's good, didn't even see her up in the trees," Jayne commented.

"So you ran, overland from the ship to here?" Zoe was still trying to take in River's method of transportation.

"Yes," River shrugged, "Wasn't far."

"That's a distance of six miles at least," Mal regarded her thoughtfully. "Did anyone know you were coming?"

"Told Simon I was going for a walk," River shrugged. "I was carrying a rifle so he didn't ask for details. Simon is not stupid, much."

"Great," The captain rolled his eyes. "Well help out with the bodies or the horses, we've gotta take 'em all back to the settlement."

"And though mine arm should conquer twenty worlds, there's a lean fellow beats all conquerors," River said softly as she moved towards the horse.

"Whose hand may grip your nostrils - Your forelock who may hold? E'en they that use the broads with us - the riders bred and bold, that spy upon our matings, that rope us where we run - They know the strong White Horses from father unto son," Riddick smiled slightly.

River tilted her head at him and continued the poem softly, her voice soothing the animals as she led them, one to another until she was holding all six sets of reins in her hands. "We breathe about their cradles, we race their babes ashore, we snuff against their thresholds, we nuzzle at their door; By day with stamping squadrons, by night in whinnying droves, creep up the wise White Horses, to call them from their loves."

Riddick couldn't help but be aware of Jayne's amusement at Mal and Zoe's confusion, nothing they'd said had led them to expect River would be good with horses or any sort of animal but it was one of the things she'd loved when she was a girl. She'd had horseback riding lessons, she and Simon, as any child of a good family would. Reading a horse was different than reading a person but emotions were still emotions and she knew how to soothe the frightened animals. While she dealt with the horses the rest of them had dealt with the bodies, now loaded in the back of the boat.

"All right then, anybody cares to, ride a horse, I'll take care of driving the boat," Mal said in resignation as his crew regarded the mounts hopefully.

Riddick grinned as he approached River, "So which one'll tolerate the wolf best liàn rén?"

"She will, needs a gentle hand but likes you. Likes the sounds you made," River handed him the reins of a dappled mare. "He is for Zoe," She handed the first mate the reins of a stallion, "Needs a firm hand. Wife and first mate can provide that."

Jayne had already walked up to the horses and held out his hand to be sniffed and nuzzled, a big gelding was now trying to nibble on his shirt, "Reckon this one likes me well enough." He patted the big animal's neck and hoisted himself into the saddle.

"He does," River laughed and tied the two spare horses to the boat before she climbed up into the saddle of another mare.

"Well let's be movin' on then," Mal flicked the reins over the backs of his horses and got the boat going again.

Author's Note: So we have the conclusion of our mini-episode, a little blip with Inara and the beginnings of 'Our Mrs. Reynolds'. For the sheer silliness of the lines and the insanity of the situation I love this episode. This is also where we're going to diverge from canon at least in some respects. I hope you guys will like where I went with this. I'm writing the ending of the episode now and it's a fine line with how…Riddick (for want of a better descriptor) he'll get.

I think we're going to see a bit more blood in the coming episodes, somehow I don't see Riddick's River as patient with some things as canon River. And its not as if Riddick is the most restrained person in the 'verse when it comes to violence. So I'm working on outlining a few things and getting ideas on plot resolution for the episodes.

Chinese Translations:

Qīng Xiāng - Sweet Scent

tiān shǐ - angel

liàn rén - lover/sweetheart

zhì 'ài - most beloved

gē ge - big brother

bàng jiār - lover/partner

láng - wolf

Quote Sources:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. – Ulysses - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

If thou could'st empty all thyself of self, like to a shell dishabited, then might He find thee on the ocean shelf, and say, 'This is not dead,' and fill thee with Himself instead. But thou are all replete with very thou and hast such shrewd activity, that when He comes He says, 'This is enow unto itself - 'twere better let it be, it is so small and full, there is no room for me. – Sir Thomas Browne

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man I am not for him. – Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare

And though mine arm should conquer twenty worlds, there's a lean fellow beats all conquerors. - Old Fortunatus - Thomas Dekker

Whose hand may grip your nostrils - Your forelock who may hold? E'en they that use the broads with us - the riders bred and bold, that spy upon our matings, that rope us where we run - They know the strong White Horses from father unto son. – White Horses – Rudyard Kipling

We breathe about their cradles, we race their babes ashore, we snuff against their thresholds, we nuzzle at their door; By day with stamping squadrons, by night in whinnying droves, creep up the wise White Horses, to call them from their loves. – White Horses – Rudyard Kipling