39) You Are the Reason I Stay Alive

He could hear Wash and Zoe talking on the bridge, which meant that River, Reading him, also heard the conversation. Wash admitted to Zoe that he'd helped the deadly duo as the pilot had privately (or not so much) dubbed River and Riddick sneak out off Serenity.

"Why would you do that baby?" Zoe sounded confused and exasperated.

"Well seein' as Rick showed me the courtesy of not just knocking me out, I thought it was only fair to repay the kindness," Wash chuckled a bit. Riddick really had to commend the man on his sense of humor. There weren't many who would find his potential for being rendered unconscious amusing but Wash managed.

"Mal didn't know that they'd snuck out until they came back in," The first mate was still troubled. "He was more'n a little irritated about it."

"River an' Rick went to more than a little trouble to keep Jayne out of sight lamby toes," Wash reminded his wife. "And Mal decided that Jayne would be a great diversion."

"Well he was a great diversion," Zoe made the practical point. Riddick couldn't blame her, it had worked but Mal hadn't even considered another way.

"Yeah but Mal didn't even think of the consequences to Jayne, or Simon and Kaylee who were also in that bar," Wash sounded as if he was surprised Zoe wasn't getting it. "Zoe, if we were in the same situation and Mal suggested I be the diversion Jayne was, what would your reaction be?"

"Mal didn't say use River as a diversion," The first mate was thinking though and Wash pressed his point.

"No, but he didn't bother to look around for any other way than to use Jayne," The pilot sounded a bit disturbed. "Rick considers Jayne to be just as much of a brother as Simon. So what should he have done? Argued and put Mal's back up even more? Mal would have ordered the two of them to stay on the boat."

"Do you know what they did?" Zoe asked her husband, "Wash did you have any idea what they were going to do?"

"I did not know the details no," The pilot admitted. "I didn't ask. It's called plausible deniability."

"That works for politicians baby, not pilots," The first mate had a dry note to her voice. "I checked the cortex after we left. Higgins died of a heart attack but apparently at least six guards, seven if you count the foreman, were killed when a prisoner escaped. No one has found the prisoner yet."

"Well I can speculate on how the magistrate died of a heart attack," Wash sounded amused. "River had her hair and face really dolled up. Looked as fancy as Inara."

"You think she scared him to death?" Zoe had a laugh in her voice.

"Nope," Wash sounded as if he was stretching. "No I'd be willing to bet that in the pack Rick was carrying River had a slinky dress of her own. Wouldn't be too hard to pose as a Companion and poison someone."

"You really think a girl with River's history could manage that?" The first mate seemed doubtful.

"If Rick is with her I'd be willing to bet River could tolerate a man just long enough to dose him with something that would cause a heart attack," Wash speculated. "That woman is as strong as you are in her way Zoe."

"I'm still not easy with what they did," Zoe sounded as if she was unbearably tired.

"Lamby toes, they're trying to protect their family," Wash reminded her. "Rick and River, they're close to Jayne. And Mal didn't even try to think of another way to get the goods across town. If he'd gotten all of us together, we coulda snuck out with River, Jayne and Rick taking point. We could have gotten the goods in the dark and back through town. It would have taken longer but it could have been done."

"Without gettin' pinched?" The first mate's voice was incredulous and then eased, "Well with those three, it's possible. But it would have been tricky."

"If it was you or me or Kaylee who was wanted, Mal woulda done it the tricky way," The pilot muttered.

"You think they're right. Mal treats 'em different," Zoe's voice wasn't accusing but it was coolly factual.

Wash's voice was tired, "I know Mal doesn't trust easy. He's never trusted Jayne because of how he came on the boat. But Jayne's got problems of his own, his own reasons for keeping to himself."

"Like what?" His wife wanted to know.

"Jayne has a sweetheart," Wash's voice was quieter. "They took her for an indenture when Jayne was thirteen. Apparently he joined up right after and he's been searching for her ever since. Rick and River have been helping him look."

"Jayne has a childhood sweetheart?" Zoe's voice held a lot of shock. "The way he goes to whorehouses I would never have guessed."

"River mentioned something about that," The pilot sighed. "Apparently he'll scratch an itch now and then but mostly he pays the girls to keep an eye out for his girl. That's why he's so gorram popular. River kinda laughed, said Jayne was accounted to be pretty good in bed but mostly he just drinks and keeps his ears open."

"Shǐ niào," His wife said succinctly. "And Mal's been treating him like..."

"Like he's a gǒushǐ duī," Wash agreed. "So the man Mal makes it plain he don't trust, and doesn't treat nearly as well as the rest of us, is someone who saved Riddick's life. Has, along with Riddick, been teaching Simon hand to hand and guns. And was a member of the Dà Chóngs."

"And to Riddick he's family," Zoe finished. "River calls him big brother same as she does Simon."

"We're not even gettin' to how Mal treats River, Rick an' Simon," Wash had a sigh in his voice. "This could go really bad lamby toes."

"Cap'n trusts 'em as crew, he's made that plain I think," Zoe sounded a little perturbed but she didn't really have much of an argument in her voice. "But if it had been Jayne that'd gotten shot when they first came aboard 'stead a Kaylee, I think Mal'd have been a lot more welcoming."

"That seem a little hypocritical to you?" The pilot didn't sound happy, "Seein' as Jayne's been shot more than once while workin' on this boat?"

"More than a little," Zoe was obviously making some comparisons in her mind. "I gotta say, since we got those three aboard, things have been both easier and more complex. But none of 'em have ever knowin'ly brought any danger down on us. I just don't like the whole doin' somethin' without orders."

"I know it makes you twitchy, but I can tell you that those two wouldn't have done it if Mal had ordered them not to. Rick's got respect for chain of command," Wash told her quietly. "But he don't obey blindly. Apparently he never did, not even when he was part of the chain of command."

"Whadda ya mean?" Zoe was getting tired, her words were slurring together a bit.

"You didn't catch that?" Her husband sounded a bit surprised. "The way Jayne defers to Rick, I'd be willing to bet that our Richard B. Riddick was at least a sergeant."

"Dà Chóngs never wore ranks, least that was the rumor," Zoe mused. "But I did get that Jayne looks to Rick for his cues just as much as he does Mal or me."

"Jayne knows who he can count on to watch his back," The pilot had a shrug in his voice. "He knows the chain of command but he also knows who values him more. And it isn't you or Mal."

"Yeah," His wife sighed. "I gotta say, I don't see Jayne quite the same as Mal does. Man's been loyal for goin' on two years now? He ain't turned on Mal once't. Mal just gets somethin' in his head and he don't budge."

"I noticed," Wash's voice was dry. "C'mon, I got autopilot set to alert us if something goes wrong. Let's get some shut eye so we're fresh for the meet."

"Husband you read my mind," Zoe chuckled.

Riddick turned the conversation over in his mind thoughtfully, considering all the angles and looked down at River, awake and doing the same in his arms. "So I guess we just need to win Mal over a bit more," He mused.

"Needs more time," River said softly. "We will consider it more after some rest. Sleep now my love."

"Yeah," Riddick pulled her closer and kissed the top of her head before he let his eyes slide closed. River's body relaxed against his and he felt the tension drain out of him.

When he got to the bridge the next morning Wash was sitting there, "You look a little worse for the wear Rick."

Riddick rolled his eyes, grateful Wash kept the lights dim so he didn't have to wear his goggles, "Been a bit since I've been in a bar brawl. Not since Santo. Fightin' with River an' Jayne ain't like takin' on all comers. Good exercise though." He took his chair and relaxed slightly into it, "I been hurt worse. I'll be all healed up in time for the meet."

"How's River?" Wash tilted his head towards his co-pilot, "Didn't hear her come up after you."

"She's still sleepin'," He gave the shorter man a half smile. "We had a full day, she needs to rest, meditate some, dance and do katas. Get alla the garbage she picked up cleared out."

"Kinda like your nose I guess," The pilot chuckled. "Well we got a good twenty hours before we'll be meeting Bernoulli. Charming fellow."

"Lovely," Riddick groaned. "So what have you been up to, 'sides recovering from the hangover?"

"Oh, flyin' the boat, hearing all about the thrillin' heroics down at the tavern, admiring Simon's bruises," Wash told him drolly. "Apparently River really impressed Jayne. Simon didn't do too badly either."

"Yeah he did pretty good for somebody ain't ever been in a fight before this," The convict agreed. "You need a break? It'll be a little bit 'fore River's awake."

"Might get a cup a coffee... like some?" Wash offered as he got up.

"Long as it ain't what Simon made," Riddick grinned tiredly. "Dunno how that man's hands stay so steady."

"No, I made the coffee," Wash called back in a normal voice, knowing Riddick would hear him.

Riddick took a deep breath and leaned back in the chair, hearing heavier footsteps than Wash's coming toward the bridge. "Mal," He greeted the captain without turning around and smirked as the taller man cursed in startled reaction.

"Wǒ de mā," The Browncoat swore. "Rick one a these days you're gonna give me gorram heart failure.

"Mal I'm sittin' in plain sight," Riddick reminded him and gave Wash a smile of thanks as the pilot brought back two cups of coffee.

"Rick you're like one a them tigers or wolves from Earth That Was," The captain leaned against the bulkhead with a shake of his head. "'Til you say somethin' or move ain't nobody sees you."

"Learn to look," Riddick advised his captain after taking the cup from Wash. "When I hide nobody finds me."

"Wouldn't a thought you'd be one to hide," Wash chuckled slightly and Riddick offered him a sly grin.

"You've never seen me work at night," He reminded the pilot. "Jayne's the only one 'sides River ever been able to keep up with me."

"That'd be somethin' to see," Mal mused.

Riddick shot him a sharp look, "No Mal." He rose from the chair, "I have been one acquainted with the night. So that ain't somethin' you wanna see. An' you better pray that if you ever do I'm not comin' after you." He stalked out of the room aware of how uncomfortable it made the captain that he still moved without a sound.

"Sounded like a threat," Mal seemed slightly affronted. Riddick nearly snorted in his irritation and a half grin tilted his lips as Wash chuckled aloud.

"Mal, when Richard B. Riddick is threatening you, you'll know it," The pilot laughed. "From how Jayne talks, Rick doesn't make threats, he makes promises." Wash's voice sobered slightly, "That bein' said Mal. I wouldn't go wishin' that you could see Rick workin' the dark. I don't think it's somethin' we'd ever wanna see."

"Wash after the war, I really don't think there's much can shock me," Mal was saying as Riddick dropped lightly into his bunk, burnt cinnamon filling the room.

The rest of the conversation wasn't anything he cared about, not when he'd heard River's sweet voice crying out his name. She was sitting up in bed panting, her eyes staring straight ahead, not quite focused yet. When his hands touched her shoulders she flinched and he realized she was still asleep. A gentle shake didn't wake her up and neither did him saying her name. Finally he kissed her, the one thing she'd told him hadn't happened in her nightmares and she woke with a moan of his name.

"Too much in one day Qīng Xiāng," Riddick drew her into his arms as she drew in a shaky breath.

"No meditation yesterday," River whispered. "Much to do, and then Higgins..." She burrowed into his embrace. "Know it was my idea but... you're the only man who's ever touched me. The only man I ever want to touch me my láng. I don't know if I can do that again," She admitted.

"Then we won't," Riddick kissed her again. "Ain't sure I could take it anyway," He admitted quietly. "I was ready to kill him for touchin' you bǎo bǎo."

"Maybe in a few years," River was leaning against him as if she was exhausted. "But not anytime soon." The scent of burnt cinnamon was fading as her fear slowly eased. "Have you eaten?"

"Wash brought me some coffee but then I caught your scent," He didn't need to say anything else. River knew just how much he hated the smell of fear on her skin. "I'll grab my cup from the bridge and we can go through our routine before we eat," Riddick pressed a kiss to her hair.

"Yes please," River climbed out of bed and turned to look at him, her midnight eyes solemn. "My Riddick...have I ever thanked you?"

"For what?" He really didn't have a clue what she was talking about. He hadn't done anything that deserved thanks. She was a good, kind, intelligent and beautiful woman and he knew just how lucky he was that she loved him.

"For saving my life, back at the Academy," Soft hands stroked over his skin, touching his neck and scalp. "I would have died long before Simon came if you hadn't helped me. If you hadn't taught me." Her lips brushed over his face, sweet caresses that seemed to seep into his skin like fire. "I know you think you're the lucky one my Riddick. But I know how fortunate I am that my Furyan saw me and loved. That your animal recognized mine."

"I couldn't...not," Riddick admitted. "Had no idea what I was doin', why the animal...what it saw in you beyond that you needed me. I just...you were..." He shrugged helplessly, he didn't have the words to explain what it was that he'd seen in her, why she was so important so immediately beyond what he'd already told her. The animal had wanted her immediately, had just...known. And now...it was like trying to define why he needed air to breathe. The scientific explanation sufficed but it didn't really answer anything.

"I know," River's words were a whisper against his skin. "It doesn't matter why. We belong together. But I couldn't not...thank you. You've saved me so many times my Riddick. Your strength... it makes me strong. You have to know that. Without you...I'd be a broken mad thing, I'd be what Simon feared I'd become. Please don't ever think that I could live without you."

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her and wondered when rampant sentimentality had taken over his brain. When had he stopped being the murderer, the convict all the time? When he'd met her, he realized with a half-smile, when the animal had found someone it valued above its own freedom, its own survival, "Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul." The ancient words made her smile but her eyes were bright because she could feel that he meant them.

"My Riddick, my zhàng fu, mate, beloved," Each word contained a kiss, pressed gently to his face until her lips met his.

"Gonna be all that, an' more," Riddick promised her as he returned the kiss. "First though, let's get goin' with the meditation and katas. That'll settle us both. The meet is today apparently."

River nodded, "Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep. She hears them all. Must get my brain in good order."

He chuckled and kissed her again, "Well let's do that then River."

The meeting with Bernoulli went decent enough, Riddick flat out told Mal that no way was River coming along with them. She'd done too much on Canton and needed the rest. Mal hadn't been pleased to be told his business even if one look at River, heavy eyed and sporting a bruise that spread across half her face made it obvious that she was in no shape to work.

"She don't gotta do much more'n stand there with Zoe," Mal argued. "And I'll remind you that she's the one who wanted to be crew."

"And it's because of her that you've got the goods and two gun hands instead of none," Riddick retorted angrily.

"Why none?" Zoe had asked curiously.

"If someone had shot our brother, nothing would have stopped us from taking vengeance," River's voice was soft as she leaned against her mate. "All three would have been injured, at least one near mortally wounded. Thus none."

Book had eyed River critically and with a few pertinent questions revealed just how little sleep she'd gotten and how little she'd eaten the day before on top of that. River had shrugged, "Zhàng fu's method of ignoring discomfort does not work correctly if she has eaten well. Stomach rebels with mental distress. Best to not eat if there are to be difficulties. Concentration is key to doing the work well."

Riddick had been cautiously pleased when Zoe'd stuck up for River, "Really Mal, how many gun hands we need?" She'd asked, "Jayne ain't lookin' a hundred percent an' he likes brawls. Him an' Rick should be fine 'long with you an' me. That's one more than Bernoulli's used to anyway."

Mal had grumbled and muttered but he'd capitulated to Zoe's superior reasoning. By the time they'd gotten back River was looking better. Riddick could tell she'd spent time in a meditative state after she'd had a light meal. Unfortunately that hadn't put Mal in a good mood, taking it as he did that she would have been fine for the job. Between Riddick giving him an argument and Zoe supporting him, he wasn't in a receptive mood when Kaylee had again asked him about replacing the catalyzer on the compression coil. "Gorramit Kaylee we're not exactly swimming in cashy money here," He'd snapped. "We have to make do with what we got."

Riddick had taken one look at his little sister's upset face and got ready to offer her a catalyzer or whatever other part she'd wanted but Mal had gotten in his face, "And you're not gonna go out an' buy her whatever she wants either Riddick. This ain't your boat. I don't want your gorram charity."

The captain had stormed off and River had looked at him and Kaylee and shaken her head. Cinnamon and burnt cinnamon had suffused her scent and she'd gone very pale. "River," Riddick had moved towards her. "What's wrong Qīng Xiāng?"

"Fire," River whispered. "Fire and darkness." She'd stared up into his eyes. "Fire...darkness...and then the cold and blood." Steel and silk and blood were overwhelming every other note of her scent, fear and anger lost as she saw a glimpse of the future. "I don't...I can't...know...it can't be quantified…it's all tangled."

"We'll figure it out," He pulled her into his arms and kissed her, relieved when he could smell plums on her again. When River Saw things instead of Reading them it was as if the truth became a force in her brain and the only thing that could contain it was the discipline and strength of her mind. It overwhelmed every other part of her scent and he hated that he couldn't smell plums or honey or even apples on her when she Saw things.

He was on the bridge with Wash, River in his lap working on her cortex when a fresh warrant came up. He hated the warrants mostly because of the irritating font they used. "Hey Wash?"

"Yes oh co-pilot of the silver eyes and intimidating reputation?" Wash was in one of his silly moods.

"Take a look at the cortex," Riddick leaned over and tapped a few keys bringing what was on River's screen on Wash's.

"Huh," Wash chuckled. "They are not very complimentary are they?"

Riddick laughed along with the pilot in spite of himself, "I swear it's like they spend time thinking up new things they can say I done." He heard River's soft giggle, "How about we let Kaylee know, Qīng Xiāng?"

River nodded, "Simon's birthday is in a couple of days." She smiled at Wash. "He must pass the word."

The pilot grinned, "I'll do that liàng nǚ ."

Riddick gave a mock growl, "You tryin' to make time with my woman Wash?"

Blue eyes twinkled at him humorously as Wash continued to work, "Sure Rick, 'cause I want my innards on the outside and my wife stomping on what's left of me."

He had to admit Wash had a valid point, Zoe was very possessive and while she adored her husband she'd never tolerate anyone cheating on her. And anyone trying to get with River would have to go through him. Barbaric probably but she was his and the man wouldn't tolerate any poaching much less the animal's reaction. River's giggling was like tequila and caramel in his nose and he grinned.

"Richard thinks he is uncouth and barbaric but he at least admits his thoughts to himself," River's soft mouth pressed against the pulse in his neck. "Most men will not admit to being possessive. Zoe and Riddick are honest with themselves and others."

Wash was still chuckling, "I wondered about that. River was fresh out of the box and you were threatening Jayne for looking at her legs. How do you deal with the fact that most of us saw her naked?"

He growled, low and mean and River kissed his cheek and her teeth nipped at his neck in remonstration, "Tries not to think of it." She explained to the pilot who'd merely blinked at the growling. "His woman, not for others to see. Exacerbated by years of Academy experimentation. The man and girl were often stripped naked. Very familiar with each others bodies even before intimacy."

"Well that's kinda…" Wash paused as if he couldn't think of a bad enough word. "So in addition to raping you River, and cutting into your brain and experimenting on both of you and torturing you, they'd strip you down whenever they gorram well pleased?"

"Accurate statement," River nodded. "Also made us fight. Each other, others, other…things." She looked down and it was Riddick's turn to kiss and nip at her flesh to remind her that they could triumph over Reavers.

"And I thought a POW camp was bad," The pilot muttered. He turned in his chair and looked at them thoughtfully. "How are you doing with all of that?"

"You mean PTSD," Riddick shrugged. "Flashbacks ain't as bad." He wasn't one for talking on his feelings with anyone besides River. Talking to Inara was needful because it was for River, so he'd done it. But he'd never liked it. River was his mate, his other half, his woman, wife, whatever they called themselves they were bonded.

"When she is very tired and then something, verbal or visual reminds her…then there is difficulty," River explained. "Then I do not sound sensible and the captain thinks I'm chī xiàn ."

"We both got triggers," Riddick admitted quietly. "We been workin' on breakin' 'em down."

"You need help, you lemme know right?" Wash offered, "You're a good friend, both of you are. Zoe takes a while to warm up, but she likes you too."

Riddick smiled as he looked down at the slender woman in his lap, "Might take you up on that. Once we get a line on Ciara, it's gonna take some persuasion to get Mal in the direction we need."

"Well with the job we picked up we'll be headed to Greenleaf," The pilot shook his head. "Just gotta get the particulars on what we'll be doing."

River tilted her head, "Ninety nine percent probability that we will take the long way 'round." She murmured softly.

Wash slanted a grin at her and nodded, "Mal don't like the regular space lanes much."

"Creative navigation," River slipped out of his lap and Riddick wrapped his arms around her before she left completely, pressing a gentle kiss to her collarbone. "She must talk with Kaylee about cake."

"Well if you gotta," Riddick grumbled. There was nothing he liked better than River's body against his.

"My greedy zhàng fu," She bent and kissed him, her scent blazing with plums through every other note.

"My měi nǚ, my nǚ ren," He smiled and mentally promised her a massage later for putting up with his foolish possessiveness.

"Not foolish," Her whisper was like a song in only his ears as she drifted out of the room. "She will kill anyone who tries to take him from her, regardless of their method."

Wash was looking at him with a half-smile and Riddick realized that River's whisper had reached the pilot's ears, "So of the two of you, which is more bloodthirsty?"

"Depends on the situation," Riddick shrugged. "We protect each other. River's got some crazy notion that she's weaker than I am because when she gets tired she has trouble. But I don't gotta deal with as much as she does."

Wash nodded, "I'm guessing her trouble has something to do with her abilities." He tilted his head, "When did the real trouble start?"

He frowned thinking back and rubbed his eyes. The light on the bridge was dim but sometimes the console lights irritated his sensitive pupils, "River, she'd turned seventeen…a few weeks, maybe a month later they took her outa our room. Put her in a dress and took her away. She came back…worse than I'd ever seen her. They'd been showing her off for some quán guì . She's never been able to talk about what she…I just had to keep telling her she didn't have to look. Didn't have to see it."

"So whenever she has trouble…" Wash frowned. "She talks about blue hands sometimes…is that related?"

"Might be," Riddick sighed. "I get the idea that Blue Hands are actual people that are after us. Articulating it isn't easy. But the root of all the trouble is whatever she saw that day I think." He looked out at the stars before he looked at Wash again, "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the fraught bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart?"

Wash shook his head, "Does Simon know?"

"He doesn't know all of it," Riddick shook his head. "Most though, and what River can do, yeah. But neither of us know what makes her go a little sideways when she's exhausted."

"I'd be willing to be that's when her guard against that memory weakens," Wash said quietly. "She's a strong woman if she's not having nightmares each time she sleeps. God knows I still have them. Sounds like she's sorta got it walled off and its when she's tired or something reminds her that she has trouble."

"There's a reason neither of us sleep alone," He admitted quietly. "If she's not with me I don't sleep. I just don't. And she won't, not without me. I can let her sleep on after I wake up but neither of us go to sleep without the other one. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause."

"So when you three got on the boat and River was in cryo…" The pilot turned to look at him incredulously. "We were in the black for a good day and a half nearly, you didn't sleep at all?"

"Don't need much," Riddick shrugged. "Was more interested in scouting out the boat and figuring out what Dobson was up to."

"So you didn't sleep until after the whole thing was over…Rick that was almost three days by the time we were in the black," Wash sounded incredulous and Riddick nearly smiled.

"Napped a bit in the infirmary with River; 'course Mal came in and woke us up, talking to Kaylee. Only got tired once we were done," He shrugged at his friend. "Me, River, Simon an' Shazza went for near four days without sleep once. We'll tell you all about it some time."

"Since you're in such a generous mood, mind if I ask you somethin' else?" Wash tilted his head curiously. Riddick shrugged again and waved his hand for the red haired man to continue, "You tend to, normally, speak a lot like Jayne, more Rim. But now and then…you don't. Like now. Like you're…relaxed or something."

Riddick chuckled and shook his head, "Shoulda known you'd pick up on it. Simon has, he just doesn't care. As long as I make River happy he really could care less about where I'm from."

"I take it that means you're not from Shadow or Kerry or Beylix or somethin' like that," Wash surmised.

"Nope," The escaped convict shook his head. "Nope. Grew up in the slums on Londinium. It's not proper but its closer to Core than Rim. Learnt me ta talk Rim durin' the war." He smiled slightly, "Glad I did too. If I'd gone to Slam talkin' like Simon I'd have had to fight off so many bèn dàn tryin' to get with me I'd never have gotten any sleep."

"Uh, Rick, you're a fairly intimidating fellow. Surely that would have impressed your fellow inmates," The pilot wondered.

"Not if I was talking like Simon," Riddick shook his head. "My language wasn't perfect but it's better than Jayne's, grammatically anyway. My eyes had settled and I was pretty muscular but nobody knew me as Richard B. Riddick or feared that name. It wasn't 'til I'd broken out of a few Slams, killed a few more people that the rest of the inmates started to give me respect or fear or whatever."

"What a lovely ending to the war that must have been for you," Wash mused with a frown.

"Well to be fair they didn't catch me immediately," He sighed slightly. "I was doing a job, just a regular job, got caught up in a riot and collected with every other person. Massive amount of gas knocked out the whole crowd, me along with it, just long enough. And when I woke up I was in restraints. Horse bit gag, chains and all."

"How long did it take you to break out?" Jayne's voice was curious as he entered the bridge.

"Oh, about six months," Riddick shrugged. "Woulda been less but it was hard to make a shiv. Lousy material to work with." Jayne's chuckle echoed the pilot's at the sound of disgust in his voice and he grinned. Who would ever have thought he'd find that time of his life humorous. "You think I'm jokin' but they had crap metal there. All this bendable garbage. Took forever to find a decent five inches of steel." The two of them kept chuckling and he shook his head again, "You two are crazy you know that right?"

"Says the man complaining about lè sè metal in Slam," Wash teased. "C'mon I'll buy you two a cup of lousy coffee."

"Long's Simon didn't make it," Jayne placed his condition. It was now common knowledge that if you wanted coffee that could stand up, walk and talk back that Simon was the one to go to. Apparently he'd learnt to make it strong when he was in MedAcad and never got out of the habit. Kaylee had gotten a cup of it once and she didn't stop talking or jittering for almost eight hours. That had been a memorable day. Simon was no longer allowed to make the coffee but they all took precautions these days.

River leaned happily against her brother. Simon was less worried today than he'd been in a long time. Mal hadn't been nosy or nasty with his comments and questions and Kaylee had spent a couple of hours with him that morning. Granted it had been while he'd been cleaning the infirmary but she'd sat on the table and kept him company and that always made for a bright spot in his day.

Riddick was on her other side, she could feel his mind and emotions, always touching on her in some way while the rest of him evaluated the crew their surroundings, instinctively searching for advantages should something go wrong. They'd both been in a state of semi-alert tension since she'd had that flash of Sight with fire and blood.

Shepherd was telling a funny story, but the captain's attention was only half on Book, another part of Mal was thinking of when he'd first gotten the boat. He'd brought his old friend to see it, offering her a job as first mate, knowing she needed freedom from the heavy hand of the Alliance as much as he did. River let herself drift into the captain's memories.

Dusty light, sun streaming through open cargo bay doors, and Zoe standing beside the Captain as he asked, "Well?"

Zoe wasn't impressed, "You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?"

The captain, as he was wont to do, reacted in surprise though not as much as usual, River could see that Serenity looked really bad, "What? Come on, seriously, Zoe. Whaddya think?"

And as was her wont, Zoe didn't pull any punches, "Honestly, sir. I think you got robbed."

River nearly giggled aloud as she followed the memory. Mal was honestly shocked now, "Robbed? What, no. What do you mean?"

Zoe had the same tone in her voice that she'd had when she said the captain had a problem with his brain being missing. River seriously loved that tone of voice, "It's a piece of fei-oo."

Again Mal was surprised, but men in love never did immediately see the flaws in their objects of affection, "Fei-oo? Okay. She won't be winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But she is solid. Ship like this, be with ya 'til the day you die."

The potential first mate's voice was flat, "'Cause it's a deathtrap." River had to stop herself from giggling again.

Mal was almost, but not quite lost for words, "That's not... you are very much lacking in imagination."

Zoe didn't seem to find that to be much of an insult, "I imagine that's so, sir."

The captain was still enthusiastic, "C'mon. You ain't even seen most of it. I'll show you the rest. And try to see past what she is, and on to what she can be."

"What's that, sir?" It was not an entirely figurative question though Mal treated it as such.

"Freedom, is what," The captain hadn't lost his tone of enthusiasm.

His old friend was now pointing to something on the ground, "No, I meant what's that?"

River smiled as Mal looked at it and sort of shrugged, "Oh. Yeah. Just step around it. I think something must've been living in here." He was still moving through the bay, expounding on the potential of the scheme and the ship, "I tell ya, Zoe, we find ourselves a mechanic, get her running again. Hire a good pilot. Maybe even a cook. Live like real people. Small crew, them as feel the need to be free. Take jobs as they come, and we'll never be under the heel of nobody ever again. No matter how long the arm of the Alliance might get, we'll just
get ourselves a little further."

Zoe was following him as she always had, at his side and moving with him deeper into the ship, "Get her running again?"

Mal's enthusiasm dimmed slightly, "Yeah." He admitted.

Flat reality was what River could hear in Zoe's voice, "So not running now?"

"Not so much," Mal shook his head. His oldest living friend made a noise that she comprehended but somehow implied she didn't understand this madness that had taken hold of him. The captain was regaining his enthusiasm as Zoe didn't slap him down for his idiocy. "But she will," He began to move up the stairs towards the lounge. "I already know what I'm gonna call her. Got a named all picked out…"

River gathered her thoughts and smiled as Riddick's hand tugged on the end of her braid, his palm warm against her spine and smiled up at him. "Captain was remembering when Zoe first saw Serenity. Was not impressed with the boat," She whispered the explanation to him of what she'd been hearing from Mal. Riddick smiled and his lips rubbed against her temple as they both tuned back in to the conversation around them. Everyone but Wash had gathered around the galley table for dinner and Book had gotten to the punch-line that had them all in stitches with laughter.

Zoe was laughing uproariously, River had never seen the stoic first mate so relaxed and filled with humor. She shook her head at Book who was telling the tale, "No! That is not true. No."

The shepherd nodded emphatically, "I swear it is!"

Inara was bubbling with laughter, still regal and elegant but there was a sweet softness about her that few but Kaylee, River and Riddick got to see, "Surely one of you must have told him!"

"No! Not one among the brethren had the heart to say anything," Book explained still chortling. "He was so proud!"

Wash came down the hall from the bridge as they all started laughing again. "What?" The pilot asked as he took a seat, "What was he proud of? Who he?"

Book shrugged at the rest of them, "Looked rather natty, truth be told, you know!" River grinned along with her mate as everyone else exploded into laughter.

Wash still didn't understand the joke, "What was natty?" He looked around, "I want to hear about the natty thing." He reached for the serving bowl and found it empty as Book finally got control of himself and took a drink, absently waving off any questions.

Kaylee smiled at Wash, "Shepherd Book was just tellin' us funny stories about his life at the monastery."

Wash didn't quite pout though it was clear he was disappointed to miss the joke. Pilot man liked humor River knew, he also liked food and would be more put out if he didn't get to eat something. "Monastic humor. I miss out on all the fun," He commented absently and checked another bowl, "And all the food, too, apparently..."

Zoe shook her head, a smile curving her lips, "Just who do you think you're married to?" She produced a plate and took the napkin off it, revealing a pile of food. "Voila!"

Wash's relief and pleasure was obvious, "I love my wife." He kissed her firmly on her smiling mouth before he began to eat. River grinned, she could feel the wash of affection between the pilot and the first mate whenever they were near. It might have been overwhelming during their more intimate moments if she hadn't had Riddick teaching her about how to handle her senses and providing her an anchor as she'd learned.

The captain took advantage of the lull in hilarious conversation to ask a more businesslike question, "So we got a course set?"

Wash nodded as he chewed and swallowed. River appreciated that, she'd never liked looking at partially masticated food regardless of the person speaking. When he'd finished his bite the pilot actually answered, "We do. Took a little creative navigating, but we should make it all the way to Greenleaf without running afoul of any Alliance patrols. Or a single living soul, for that matter."

Mal nodded in satisfaction, "Good. Way it should be."

Wash shook his head as he made a salient point, "'Course, what should be an eighteen hour trip's gonna take us the better part of a week by this route."

The captain just smiled, "We're in no rush. I like an easy, languorous journey."

Kaylee stood and picked up a few plates with a smile, "Oh, gee, I wonder what that would that be like?"

Simon, ever the gentleman started to stand and assist her with clearing the table, "Let me help you with that—"

Kaylee stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder, "It's your turn."

River grinned when her brother was clueless, "My turn...?"

Kaylee nodded, "Shepherd told a funny story 'bout bein' a preacher. Now you tell a funny story about being a doctor." She instructed firmly before moving behind the counter to the food prep area.

River could see Kaylee getting out the cake she'd made and a bowl of frosting that had required some time to set before it could be smeared lusciously over the cake. Simon was frowning to himself and trying to think of a story, "A funny story..."

Jayne wasn't convinced the story would be any good no matter what but he loved to tease Simon. The big man didn't hate her brother anymore and even liked him most days but he still treated Simon like a younger brother and teasing was part of the job, "Yeah, 'cos sick people are hi-larious."

Simon nodded, a tentative smile curving his lips, "Well, they can be... uh..." He chuckled, "In fact, I remember there was this one time I was working the E.R. and this, this, uh, fellow, this very upright sort of citizen, comes in complaining of...pain in his…" He paused a moment to take in his audience and chose a polite word, "Hindquarters."

Jayne blinked, "He was complainin' his pì gu ached? What'd he do ride too long?"

Simon shook his head and grinned, "Uh, not quite no." River grinned and motioned for him to continue, anticipating the joke. "Maybe I should start by explaining that with a teaching hospital the nursing staff is told they should always follow up patient information with a question. The idea is to draw the history out for the doctor. I had three nurses with me, two of whom were students." He slanted a glance at Jayne who seemed about to interrupt. "One of them was pretty sarcastic and she'd been slapped on the wrist for it more than once. But she was very good at her job."

"So what was wrong with the guy?" Jayne wanted to know.

Simon shook his head, "He had been…drinking. Probably a mistake. Then he mixed the alcohol with a stimulant. Second mistake." He chuckled, "His third mistake was his curiosity. It took him an hour to tell us what he'd done and by that time my nurses were all losing patience with him. We couldn't treat him or move on until we'd gotten the history you see."

"So ya stood there for an hour trying to figure out what he'd done to himself," Jayne shook his head, "I'd a shot him 'fore I was that patient."

"Yes my student nurse was of the same opinion," Simon sighed. "We finally found out that he'd sat upon a shot glass bottom up and it had lodged in his rectum." He saw everyone's blinking face and, "And of course, my student nurses were required to question him after this bit of information. He'd kept saying it was an accident."

"Yeah 'cause that's usually where a shot glass ends up accidentally," Jayne was chuckling and Riddick was shaking his head and grinning across from him, "What'd your little nurse say?"

"We finally got him to admit he'd done it on purpose once I removed it," Simon rolled his eyes, "He'd put a condom on it." Everyone began to howl with laughter, even Inara, and Simon shook his head again a helpless chuckle on his lips. "When I asked why he had done that, he said he wanted to see what would happen."

"What'd your sarcastic little nurse say to that?" Riddick wanted to know.

"She just snapped at him, 'Well did you find out?'," Simon was chuckling. "He got out of there as fast as he could once he was recovered. And then she was so worried because she'd snapped at a patient. But I couldn't reprimand her because I could barely keep a straight face." He pushed a hand over his face as if to hide his current grin, "The senior nurse sent the two younger ones on and then we made the mistake of looking at each other. I don't know who started laughing but then we couldn't stop for ten minutes." River looked over her shoulder and saw that Kaylee was working on the cake and candles, a few more minutes' distraction would be needed.

River giggled next to him and smiled, "She has a story. Even Richard hasn't heard it." Her story wouldn't be long but it would keep them occupied and most importantly, Simon's attention on her not Kaylee.

"Yeah?" Jayne grinned at her, "Let's hear a story 'bout bein' a genius then."

River shook her head at him, "That would be boring. This is about a boy I knew at school. Rich boy. Had servants." She grinned at her brother and then at the crew and captain, "We'll call the boy George."

"And what did George do now," Mal asked curiously.

"Came to school, fifteen years old when I was twelve," River explained seriously. "Told us all, 'I have to tell you this'," She put her fingers up in quotations. "This was important information, we all paid close attention."

"Uh oh," Wash grinned. "That never bodes well."

River pointed her finger at him, "Pilot man is very wise. It did not bode well." She wrinkled her nose, "George began to tell us, the day before he'd come home from school and went up to his room." She looked around, "Boys and girls in the group, much like this one, but younger." She explained, "Told us all he took off his clothes. Girls all giggled but still, 'he had to tell us'," She made the air quotes again, "So we continued to pay attention. Told us how he lay down on his bed and put in his headphones on, listened to music. Began to touch his jī ba ."

Inara exchanged a glance with Book and interrupted, "He told girls this?"

River nodded and made the finger quotes again, "Yes, he 'had to tell us'. Very adamant about it." She shook her head over George's stupidity. Jayne was trying to figure out the joke and River grinned at him. "Told us how he took care of himself, reached for a tissue when he was done. Opened his eyes," Her mouth twitched. "Saw on the bureau next to the tissues, full tea service, brought in by the housekeeper while he had his eyes closed." She wrinkled her nose as everyone realized the extent of what had happened. "Yes, while he pleasured himself, housekeeper walked in and saw him."

"Eww…" Jayne shook his head, "Really?"

River pointed her finger at him, "Yes!" She said excitedly, "Exactly. Could have gone my entire life without hearing that story. Housekeeper seeing him whack away like a little monkey. He did not 'have to tell us' this." She shook her head, "We did not need to know. Would have been happier if he'd kept it to himself. You all agree?" There was a groaned chorus of assent from the crew and her mate.

"Well dì yù River, why'd you tell us then?" Mal wanted to know, his nose wrinkled in an unconscious imitation of hers.

"She has had to live with the story since she was twelve," River told him reasonably. "She no longer wished to suffer with it alone," She grinned at him wickedly at his astonished face and began to giggle. Riddick and Simon then Jayne began to laugh along with her as they realized they'd been had, the rest of the table joining in in dismayed humor.

Jayne shook his head and looked hopefully at Inara, "Now Inara, she's gotta have some real funny whorin' stories, I'd wager. If River's done makin' us wanna lose our dinner." He sent a mock hard look her way.

Inara nodded her agreement with a smile, "Oh! Do I ever! Funny and sexy. You have no idea." Her smile dropped, "And you never will." Zoe snorted her amusement and Inara slanted a half grin her way. "I don't discuss my clients."

Jayne was now trying to tease Inara, with slightly less success than Simon, "Aww, come on, Inara. Who'd know?"

"You," Inara told him reasonably. "A Companion doesn't kiss and tell."

Mal asked, with an air of having discovered secret information, "So there is kissing?" When Inara sent him a look meant to be repressive, he just smiled. River nodded her satisfaction. Mal was coming along nicely, enjoying Inara as a friend, no malicious intent in his words and the Companion could relax a bit more in the captain's company.

Zoe caught Simon's attention, "Hey, doc?" The first mate nodded towards something behind Simon, "I think Kaylee may need your help after all."

Simon turned around and blinked in astonishment to see Kaylee carrying an obviously homemade cake with mismatched candles. "Care to make the first incision, Doctor Tam?" The mechanic teased and set the plate before him, "Happy birthday, Simon."

There was a chorus of birthday wishes and River smiled as her gē ge looked around in astonishment. "Well this is... How, how did you know?" He glanced down at River, "River, did you—"

She shook her head and smiled at him before leaning against her mate, "'Day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It's not applicable." She tilted her head, "I didn't get you anything besides the equipment we've been working on for the infirmary."

Mal explained, "Seems a fresh warrant for your arrest come up on the cortex. Had your birth date attached right to it."

Simon looked slightly worried, "Really?"

Riddick chuckled, "Wash an' me were on the bridge when it came up. So we just had a word with Kaylee 'bout usin' her cookin' skills on somethin' properly celebratory."

Kaylee gestured towards the cake, "Hope you like it. Couldn't get a hold of no flour, so it's mostly protein. In fact, it's pretty much what we just had for supper. But I tried to get the frosting as chocolaty tasting as possible, so..."

Simon blinked and River knew he was surprised but so very pleased that Kaylee had gone to the trouble, "Thank you. I'm really, I'm very deeply moved. Thank you."

Jayne was not so very sneakily trying to swipe some frosting with his finger and got his hand smacked by Kaylee, "Well deeply move yourself over there and blow out them candles so we can try a slice."

Kaylee grinned her encouragement, "Come on, Doc. Give a good blow."

River watched as Simon nodded and leaned forward to blow out the candles. River stiffened as something sounded from the back of the ship near the engine, a deep ugly grinding noise. The power flickered and dimmed and she could feel what she'd seen about to come true. The engine stopped and everyone seemed to freeze then the engines began to hum again. She could feel Riddick stiff with tension next to her, she smelt like steel, silk, blood and burnt cinnamon in his nose.

Jayne blinked, "What the hell was that?"

Kaylee was worried now, "Maybe just a hiccup. I'll go check it out." She began to move towards the door.

Wash stood, putting down his napkin, "I'll take a look at the helm."

He headed towards the bridge and River couldn't stop staring at the cake, her hand clutched at the edge of the table, white knuckled. "Fire..." She whispered and felt Riddick's tension increase beside her.

Simon glanced at her and then at the cake, "Okay, right." He leant in to blow out the candles as Kaylee got to the door. The explosion from the engine room took everyone by surprise even Riddick who'd been tense and waiting for some disaster. Fire seemed to explode towards them, towards Kaylee, even as Zoe jumped to her feet and lunged for the little mechanic, Riddick farther away and only a half-step behind her. Kaylee was shoved into Riddick's arms as the ball of fire burst at the doorway, and Zoe was thrown backwards. The concussion of the blast threw her body off the dinner table before slamming her into a wall. Wash came running back to the galley calling for his wife, "'Zoe!

River grabbed Kaylee from her mate and held her with Inara as Riddick shoved his mèi mei out of the way. Another fireball belched towards them as he forced the big metal door between the galley and engineering closed. Just as he got it latched the fireball hit and knocked him backwards so he ended up prone on the floor.

River let Book and Inara take care of Kaylee and crawled towards her mate to verify he was all right. "Fire," She murmured the word. Putting her hand on his chest she absorbed his heartbeat before she stood and moved quickly towards Jayne.

Simon had gone to Zoe, Wash at her side, trying to talk to his wife, "Zoe, honey, talk to me, you gotta talk to me, baby..."

River grabbed Jayne's hand and began to tug him below decks, as Mal ran for the bridge shouting, "Seal off everything that leads below decks. Do it now!" Thankfully there were only two doors and Riddick had closed one. The other was at the top of the stairs that came out next to the galley. It took all of Jayne's muscle even with River bracing herself against the wall and using her legs instead of her arms to close the doors. It had just been that long since they'd been closed. The latch to seal them still worked though, thank the uncaring God for that, River scowled to herself and followed Jayne back to the galley.

She could feel Mal on the bridge, his fingers quick on the console, pressing buttons and switches that would open the airlock. Wash was close to panicking because Zoe wasn't waking up, and River shuddered under the weight of it, the pain of it. Citrus in Riddick's nose, she knew he hated the smell.

"Is she gonna be okay?" Wash wanted to know.

Simon moved towards the aft deck, almost stumbling in his hurry, around Riddick's slowly rising form towards the door, "I need my med kit."

Kaylee shook her head at him as she stood in front of the door that led to engineering, "Not this way. We got fire."

River watched her brother move towards the foredeck only to have Jayne stand in the doorway, "Where you think you're going?"

Simon looked past him, "Zoe's badly hurt. I need my medical supplies."

Jayne shook his head, his regret was genuine but he stood firm, "Sorry, Doc. Nobody leaves. Everything's sealed up tight."

River watched silently as her brother persisted, "If you don't let me through, she could die."

Jayne wouldn't be moved, "I let you through-"

"And we all die," River finished his sentence moving to help Riddick stand, her shoulder under his hand for a moment while he shook off the last of the dizziness.

Her mate stood completely upright and wrapped his arm around her shoulders before he agreed with Jayne, "Sorry Simon, it'll be at least five minutes."

River looked towards the bridge, "Captain purges Serenity of fire." She murmured, "Out the airlock into the Black. The Fire dies."

"Now comes the Darkness and then the Cold and Blood," Riddick remembered, his voice a murmur for her ears only.

Author's Note: So we've started Out Of Gas. Can ya'll guess what'll happen? I read a couple of fics that were crossovers and some that weren't and tried to take a course of action that wasn't like any of them. I don't think I've ever seen what I've written done before but if I'm inadvertently plagiarizing I hope someone will tell me.

But when you're guessing keep in mind River and Riddick's abilities and the type of decisions they've made in the past. Their priority is survival. So any action they take is going to be with an eye for their survival and the survival of their family.

The funny story Simon told is something that happened to a nurse friend of mine. And River's story is stolen from Ricky Gervais. (Love that man.)

I hope you'll like the episode, I really had to mess with it because the way the script is written is so different than how it happens chronologically. It's fun to watch but it's a bitch to turn into a story.

Chinese Translations:

Shǐ niào - Shit and piss

gǒushǐ duī - a person who behaves badly - lit. "a pile of dog shit"

Wǒ de mā - My mother! Mama mia! Similar to "Oh my God!" in usage

Qīng Xiāng - Sweet Scent

láng - wolf

bǎo bǎo - darling/baby

zhàng fu - husband

liàng nǚ - pretty girl

chī xiàn - crazy/insane

měi nǚ - beautiful woman

nǚ ren - wife

quán guì - government officials/bigwigs

bèn dàn - fools

lè sè - garbage/trash

pì gu - butt

jī ba - dick / penis

dì yù - hell / infernal / underworld

gē ge - big brother

mèi mei - little sister

Script Translations:

fei-oo. – junk

Quote Sources:

I have been one acquainted with the night. – Robert Frost

Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul. – Mahatma Gandhi

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep. – Paradise Lost – Milton

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, raze out the written troubles of the brain, and with some sweet oblivious antidote cleanse the fraught bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart? – MacBeth - William Shakespeare

To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause – Hamlet - William Shakespeare