BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA

JACQUI

Adam's Rib Ch 1: Timely
Sunday, August 7, 2005

River helps Kaylee, Kaylee helps River.


CATEGORY: FICTION    TIMES READ: 4994    RATING: 9    SERIES: FIREFLY

Disclaimer: Joss, Fox, many people richer than me. I own naught. Tell ya what, I ever make any money from fanfic, I'll send you all a check.

Comments: This started out as one little scene to help Kaylee get over a few issues, it turned into something bigger and I'm not even sure if it's done.

Rated: PG-13 overall at the moment, not really for this part, though.

***

"So there we were," The two voices giggled through the engine room and Simon stopped just outside to listen. "flush up against the wall, when in walks the Captain."

His face reddened at Kaylee's words. River's voice was soft and muffled, he couldn't hear what she said, but there were more giggles. There was a change in the air next to him and he turned to see Mal as Kaylee's voice carried out again.

"And that's how I got the job."

Mal nodded at Simon.

"True story, Doc."

"Cap'n?" Kaylee rushed, red faced, to the door. A non descript engine part in her hand, several streaks of grease on her coveralls. Her eyes flickered towards Simon, but didn't linger. "We're nearly finished in here."

"Simon?" River's face joined Kaylee. She looked from one to the other. "You're not very timely."

"River, it's... uh... it's time for your meds." He stumbled over the words, not looking either of the girls in the eye.

The color drained from Kaylee's face.

"Oh, surely it ain't gonna hurt her to stay a bit longer. We'll be done soon." She gestured futilely at the engine behind her. "I just got a few parts to tinker with is all."

"You go on, Doctor." Mal watched Simon lead River away, he turned to Kaylee. "You got some mighty fine notions, sometimes, but encouraging that girl to skip her medicine is not one of them."

She blushed.

"I didn't mean... it's just." Her brain tried to think up something to cover and threw out the first thing it thought of. "Sometimes it gets lonely here."

"You?" Mal raised his eyebrows, his disbelief obvious. "Lonely in the engine room?"

"Yes." She nodded, quick and decisively. "Why don't you stay and talk with me 'til I'm done?"

He looked around, as if trying to spot the catch.

"Ookaaay."

***

They were sitting at the dining table, eating the remains of lunch. Zoe and Wash were trying very hard to get Jayne to see the attraction of commitment and fidelity. Book was laughing to himself. Jayne sighed and took a large gulp from his mug.

"You know what I mean, doncha, Inara? Down right unnatural stayin' with one person for so long."

"Leave me out of this, please." She kept her face rigid, but Inara's eyes glowed with amusement.

"Maybe he just likes the choice, I remember..."

"Don't help me out, Doc." Jayne pointed with his fork. "I ain't never heard you speak of one woman, let alone more'n... one... woman."

"Just because he don't brag," Kaylee forced her way into the conversation. "don't mean there ain't nothing to brag about."

Simon smiled smugly at Jayne, who curled his lip in response.

Mal walked into the room.

"Just got us a new job. It's on Heathmore." He let the name hang in the air. Mal, Inara, Zoe, Wash and Jayne all looked at Kaylee, some of them not bothering to hide their grins. Simon grew puzzled. "Kaylee, I need you to check out the second shuttle, the release mechanism has been sticking. Way I figure it, you're gonna want to use it when we land."

Kaylee blushed, looking down at the table.

"Oh, no, Cap'n. Probably not this time."

Jayne choked on his food.

"Yeah, right."

"Just don't push it, Captain." Silence as everyone took note, Kaylee's voice had taken on a tone of command that she rarely took with anyone, least of all Mal. Her eyes flashed at him. "I'll fix the shuttle, but I won't need it."

***

River sat up in her bunk, her feet swinging in the air. Her mouth fell open as the memories hit her, harsh and clear and vibrant. The fear made her tremor.

***

"Serious, Captain, it's not a good idea. Just drop it, okay?"

"Am I missing something?" Simon looked between Mal and Kaylee. "What's on Heathmore?"

Jayne smirked into his food.

"Little Kaylee has herself a stud farm."

He got a slap on the shoulder for his troubles.

"One man is hardly a stud farm, and it's not like that at all." She set her shoulders and made her face very prim. "We just have regular visits, is all."

"Yeah," Grinned Jayne, this time prepared for the shove when it came. "in his bed."

"Oh, ha ha." She poked out her tongue at him. "I won't be needing the shuttle, but thanks anyway, Captain."

"Be that as it may," Mal poured himself some tea. "shuttle still needs fixing."

"I got plenty of fixing to do with Serenity's engines already," Eyes in the room flickered between the two like a tennis match. "I'll look at it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow we land. You can look at it tonight."

"If no one needs it, it don't matter if it's not ready."

"I said tonight, Kaylee."

"We can't land without the engine fixed, Captain. There ain't time to do both."

Everyone looked at the floor, the walls, anywhere that wasn't Kaylee herself. This was new. No one saw the flash of color slip through the ship, the glide of bare foot over metal gratings. They didn't see the sudden relief that washed over Kaylee's face as she alone saw River skip into the engine room.

***

The glide of texta over the page created a streak of color that sometimes seemed so out of place on the stark lines of their rooms and sometimes seemed so welcome. Simon reached out and drew back the curtain of River's hair. Her lip trembled.

"You can't hide from them." She shook her head, letting her hair fall back, out of his reach. "They'll find you."

He paused, trying to gauge how deep she'd fallen this time. The page before him grew florid with dark reds and blacks.

"You've been spending a lot of time with Kaylee."

Deep brown pools looked up at him, boring deep.

"It's not what you think."

He smiled.

"I think you're having fun. It's good, you both need it."

Her mouth quirked.

"Kaylee's not having fun."

"Jien tah-dah guay, Mei Mei, Kaylee adores you." He watched her expression change into a set, stubborn, slightly amused line that he recognized. She knew she was right and it was only a matter of time before her idiot brother caught on. "C'mon, I hear you two laughing and chattering away..."

River rolled her eyes, bored with his refusal to accept her obviously superior view point.

"Kaylee needs to laugh, because she doesn't know."

Simon frowned.

"Know what?"

The air exploded from her throat in a gust of frustration. She shoved the paper at him and tossed the texta to the table as she stood up and stretched her long legs.

"That you can't hide from them." She insisted. "You can't hide from the nightmares."

He watched her walk away, then looked at the picture he was holding. Unlike her other drawings, which had precise, clear lines and intricate detail, this one was wild with angry splashes of red, black and white. Something about it niggled at the back of his brain. Like a lot of his conversations with his sister lately, this one had left him with the distinct impression that he was missing something completely obvious.

***

It never really got dark on Serenity. There was always a light source from somewhere. Kaylee was sure, however, that shadows grew out of nowhere at night, deepening, spreading out like ink. A trick of the mind, perhaps, a brain conditioned to expect solar patterns with the passing of hours.

It was something that had never bothered her before. Another aspect of life breathed into Serenity, a living organism if she'd ever known one. And yet, now she avoided the darker corners, found herself unfamiliar with parts of the ship, spent an inordinate amount of time and energy ensuring she was rarely alone. Something that was surprisingly easy, a few lies here and there, spreading 'Kaylee' duty just thin enough over everyone that no one saw fit to question why she needed company in the engine room, or down in the bowels of the machinery.

And River, popping up in crucial moments, a distraction when she needed it. A release of pressure. She knew, Kaylee knew she knew. It was River's voice that had found her, held her up, let her free that night. More than that, too, River understood the fear it created, forgave the betrayal that Kaylee, herself, could barely forgive. Live, River had whispered to her afterwards, and you did that just fine.

Warm laughter ran over her thoughts and she smiled. Mal and Zoe were playing Chinese Checkers again and she was sure Zoe was winning. They sat at the dining table, with Jayne and Book their more or less enthusiastic audience, mugs of wine lulling them all into a comfortable ease. Kaylee let herself curl deeper into the couch against the wall, her own mug cradled in her hands as the sounds of people and ship washed over her.

Somehow, she wasn't sure how, she found herself in the engine room, alone. It was dark, too dark to see anything at all, too dark for Serenity. Her ears strained to identify the noises that whirred past, the roll of the engine, the creak of Serenity settling herself in for the night, people moving about their bunks. A footstep she just knew was too heavy to be River. She struggled to draw breath, fingernails scratching at the inside of her skin, her brain screaming at her. Not again. Trembling, she waited, waited for him to make the first move, fervently hoping that he'd go away, that he'd be just another figment of her overactive and harshly cruel imagination. And then Early's voice sounded.

"Aw..." Mal lifted his mug in tribute to Zoe's win. "She's so adorable."

"I think you're overworking her, Sir."

Zoe nodded her head to the sleeping Kaylee. Wash walked into the room, casting a quick glance to the form on the couch, then focusing on the plate of food, Zoe was producing with a flourish.

"You can't let her sleep there," He sat down, reaching past Jayne for the salt. "she'll get a crick in her..."

A loud snap sounded as Jayne twisted his neck, he grinned at Wash's face.

"You're right." Agreed Mal. "Jayne, you can carry her to her bunk."

Jayne smirked.

"Nicely." Growled Mal.

Jayne feigned innocent offence.

Truth be told, he never would have tried anything. Sure, Kaylee was attractive and there worse things he could think of than finding out what was underneath those coveralls, but he preferred his women awake and fully participating. Asleep, Kaylee was a little lamb, adorable as she breathed through just parted lips, her right hand curled under her cheek.

He thrust one arm under her knees and another under her shoulders. In his lifetime, Jayne had picked up countless bodies, some dead, some children, some women in varying states of undress, some injured. It hadn't been too long since he'd actually had Kaylee, herself, bleeding and helpless as he'd carried her to the engine room. He wasn't sure what he'd expected, a soft acquiescence, the slow shifting of her weight as she rolled her head onto his shoulder, a half mumbled question, a glance with blurry, sleep filled eyes. Any or all of these, perhaps.

It certainly wasn't the cry of horror she gave, or the fist that cracked painfully into his nose. Jayne tasted blood gushing down the back of his throat as he fell back to the table. He stared up at Kaylee, who had backed herself up against the wall.

"Jesus, Kaylee!"

Her breath was jagged and her eyes dilated as she scanned the room, taking stock of her surroundings. Jayne, trying to stem the flow of blood, Mal and Zoe, looking at her in much the same way she had seen them looking at River during one of her bad spells, like she was a wild, unpredictable animal capable of anything. Wash, pausing with a fork half way to his mouth, Book watching her without speaking. Her heart beat wildly and she tried to calm it, tried to pretend nothing was wrong. Footsteps heralded the arrival of Simon from his quarters and Inara from her shuttle.

"Sorry." She stammered the words out. "I didn't mean..."

"Are you ok, Kaylee?"

Mal's voice was calm and he moved toward her slowly. No sudden movements there.

"Yeah, I'm fine, I just..." She flustered, looking for the words. "... had a bad dream."

"Bad dream?" Jayne growled. "You broke my rutting nose!"

"Jayne." Mal warned, never taking his eyes off Kaylee. At the same time Inara's gentle, peacekeeping voice broke in, trying to reassure.

"It was an accident."

They were still watching her, warily, questions forming faster than her answers and she had to get out. Out. Away. Away from their eyes, which seemed to know or hinted at piecing the clues together. She had to leave before they called her on it.

"Sorry," She said again. "I'm...ah... going to bed now."

"Now that you're awake," Mal tried to smooth things over by offering the one thing he knew would calm her down. Engine work. "How 'bout looking at that shuttle?"

He watched her eyes turn to the hallway, to the direction of said shuttle, saw whatever scant color she'd had left drawn from her. If he'd had to name it, he would have called it fear crawling over her features.

"Can it wait, Captain?"

She wouldn't meet his eyes and that's when he knew something was wrong. No power in the 'Verse, far as he knew, could stop Kaylee tinkering with Serenity when it was needed. Even when everyone else on board was asleep, she'd be up at three am, fixing one thing or another.

"Don't rightly think so." He tried to push her a little bit further. "We land first thing."

A deep breath and she swallowed, accepting this.

"You'll... uh... have to show me where..."

He shook his head.

"I got Captainy things to do before we land."

Her eyes scanned the room and the people in it, Mal realized with a jolt that she was sizing up the most likely candidate to go with her. She didn't want to be alone. On Serenity. In her engines. A flash of color made him turn, River came sweeping in, bare feet slapping the metal stairs.

"I'm here." She said, practically dancing her way to Kaylee, grasping her hands in both her own. "I'll go with you."

"Okay."

Kaylee shook as she let herself be led. Mal put up an arm and blocked their way. He did not miss the way that Kaylee flinched from him. River, however, puffed up her chest, glared at him and placed one hand on his chest, pushing him away.

"Don't be premature."

He was not to be intimidated on his own ship and certainly not by River.

"I want to know what's going on."

River stared at him for a moment, her eyes pleading with him to understand, to comprehend, to save her the trouble of explaining. He was acutely aware of everyone else watching them and felt, stubbornly, that he was not going to be the one to back down.

"It's a secret," she whispered, pausing to notice that everyone was now looking at her and not Kaylee, who was trying to shrink into the back ground. "Don't tell anyone, it's our secret."

"If you don't speak about it, if you don't think about it, he'll go away." She continued, facing one person and then the other. "But he doesn't. He's there in your dreams, coming back when you're all alone."

"River, what are you..." Simon stepped forward.

"There are hands!" She told him. "And they threaten you, stare at you with cold, cold eyes that make you shiver. Where is River? Tell me where River is?"

She pushed her face at Book, her voice deep.

"Where does River sleep?"

At Zoe, her voice raising slightly, speculative.

"Maybe I've always been here."

She pointed at Jayne, eyes narrowing.

"Throw a monkey wrench into my dealings and your body is forfeit. Ain't nothing but a body to me. I can find all unseemly manner of uses for it."

River was getting more and more frantic and nobody seemed able to do anything.

"River," Simon urged. "tell me."

She spun around, looking at each of them, the words itching at her skin, bubbling to get out. Shh, she heard Kaylee's silent plea in her head, a mantra over and over, River just shh. Don't tell. She shook her head, not wanting to hurt anyone, not wanting to let the secrets boil over, but they'd grown too big.

"Sweetie." Inara came forward, soft and warm, a hand on her shoulder, comfort. "Just tell us."

River rolled her neck, slowly, lazily, suddenly still, and looked into the big warm pools of Inara's eyes.

"Have you ever been raped?" She whispered.

A collective gasp ran through the dining hall. Before she could stop it, Inara lifted her hand, broke contact.

"Who?" Simon, red faced and angry. "Who did it?"

"The Captain."

All eyes flew to Mal.

"What? Hey now! I never..."

"The Captain is right down that hallway..." She continued, lost in the memories that kept invading her brain, bright and painful, her voice lowered. "The Captain's locked in his quarters, they all are. There's nobody can help you. Say it."

Silence lay thick in the room. River growled the words again.

"Say it."

"There's nobody can help me." Came the whispered, teary answer. Everybody looked at Kaylee, comprehension dawning. She had backed herself fully against the wall once more and tears ran down her cheeks, eyes wide and reliving the moment. "There ain't no one to help me now."

River turned on Mal.

"You can't be premature." She pushed him back again. "See? You can't be Early."

She turned back to Kaylee, running a finger across the tears staining her cheeks.

"I'll help you, Kaylee. I'll stay with you."

The group watched as River pulled Kaylee's hands, the mechanic following numbly.

"Hwoon dan!" Mal slammed his fist into the wall. "And we let him go! We should've..."

He broke into a string of Chinese that made Inara flinch.

***

River walked backwards, pulling Kaylee as she went, never breaking eye contact. No words passed between them as River's mouth moved silently, slightly, encouraging Kaylee to keep walking. Her bare feet lifted automatically, raising to take the stairs and avoid tripping without ever having to look behind her. They could both hear the voices they left behind, anger and frustration and concern, a big bubble of energy that needed to be away from Kaylee right now.

"They know." Whispered Kaylee.

"They care." River whispered back.

Yes, thought Kaylee, they care, they always care, because I need caring for, I'm the weak link in the chain, the faulty link.

"You're not a link. You're a heart." River nodded, completely sure of her words. "Big, beating engine of Serenity. In the Earth that Was, there knew only nine planets, revolving around one sun, a ball of fire. They couldn't make their own light, so they took hers, without her, there was no life, no warmth."

Kaylee blinked.

"Are you...? Are you comparing me to the sun?"

River rolled her eyes as only a teenager can.

"We're planets. Nine." She took Kaylee's hand and drew it down the wall of the shuttle they had just reached. "Serenity is the sun."

Rather than cold steel, which Kaylee knew was there, her hand caressed a warmth, the indistinguishable life she could always feel humming from the ship. A tingle raced from her skin, through her blood to her very bones.

"She nurtures us." River smiled up at her. "You nurture her."

"That you do, I reckon."

They turned to see Mal watching them. A connection was broken and River let go, leaving Kaylee with nothing but cold air rushing in around her. She wiped at the tears on her cheeks, suddenly conscious of who could see what.

"Hey Cap'n."

She tried to smile and neither of them believed it.

"You should have told us, me at least."

"It wasn't nothing. A threat. Threw me, is all." As she spoke, she was intensely aware of River, moving in the shuttle behind her, small, tight movements, waiting. "What would you have done? Captain? 'Sides get angry like you are now?"

"It may have escaped your attention, Kaylee, but ain't none of us complete blithering idiots." She had feared pity in their eyes, but wasn't surprised to find nothing but support. "We knew there was something wrong. You haven't been sleeping and you can't bear to be alone. Now, at least, we can help."

His eyes flicked up to the space behind her.

"It constantly amazes me that that girl can sleep half the day and still know more about this ship than me. Then again," He smiled. "she's always been more in tune with you than anyone else."

"Me?" Kaylee's eyes widened, her brain already dismissing the thought. "Nah, Captain, she just likes to play."

"You talk to her."

"We all talk to her," Scrambling again, deflecting. "Simon, more'n me of course, but all of..."

"You understand her."

Kaylee smiled, Mal shifted his weight nervously.

"So... uh... do you want me to stay?"

He gestured at the air around them.

"No thanks, Captain." Letting him off the hook, she felt a smoothing of the energies in the shuttle. "I think we'll be alright for now."

They waited awkwardly for a few seconds until River poked her head around Kaylee.

"Bye Mal."

She spoke pointedly before her fluid limbs claimed Kaylee, wrapping around her and pulling her into the shuttle, closing the door behind them. Mal was left with the image of Kaylee's surprised and dazed face disappearing. He wasn't quite sure what had just happened, but he knew a dismissal when he been given one. Those two were good for each other, he knew it, he just didn't figure out how.

***

"You shouldn't have done that, River."

Breathless, Kaylee backed into the shuttle, her eyes adjusting instantly. The hatch in the middle of the floor was already open, her tool box waiting. River sat down, cross legged, expectant, ready to hand tools as needed through the space. Kaylee smiled.

"You are a task master, aren't you?"

"If you fix it, it won't be broken."

She stopped, half way into the hatch, eyes searching River, looking for a hint of the longing and sadness she thought she'd just heard. Kaylee could see nothing.

"Sweetie..."

But River broke into that train of thought, a devilish glint in her eyes.

"Tell me about the ocean." This was a different form of longing, one Kaylee was used to, one she could handle, had the answers to. They'd had this conversation before and River was already lost in the pictures of her head, eyes glazed to the present, whispering words under the cadence of Kaylee's reply. "Riding the waves, the men, tasting the salt."

***

"That's that, then, Sir." Zoe gave a tight smile of approval. "Looks like the job here is done."

"Yup." Mal hefted the bag in his hand, the thought of weeping crossed his mind. The amount of coins he had just paid was almost obscene. "Nobody trusts anybody anymore."

"Way of the 'Verse, Sir."

The sounds of Jayne and Wash loading the cargo behind them could be heard. They'd had to pay Temera outright for the stock. Discounted price. A buyer already lined up off planet. It eliminated the middle man, Temera said, ensured they didn't have to return with her money, made sure they weren't going double skim the profits. They turned and headed back into the ship.

"We staying long?"

"No need to, now." Mal surveyed the boxes, his brain noting the moment that his feet left hard packed dry soil and touched metal. "Inara's staying on ship and Kaylee ain't visiting her boy. Soon as we're done here, we can leave."

Wash stood up.

"Haven't got a full ship just now."

"Where's my crew?"

"Getting supplies, I'd imagine."

Just then Simon entered the cargo bay, looking harried. A harried looking doctor usually meant only one thing. Mal drew his lips in tight.

"Doctor, you tell me you know exactly where your sister is and that is right on this ship."

Mal really didn't even need to look to see the stricken expression on Simon's face. He felt his chest tighten.

***

She walked the aisle with her hands clasped behind her back, like a child. The temptation to touch was always half the fun. Her mouth watered at the thought of all the meals she could make with the fare available here, the fresh produce that didn't stay fresh very long. Inara's voice mumbled something about something else. Kaylee found herself looking at the weal over Inara's face.

"Are you upset?"

"What?" Inara blinked. "Because potatoes are bigger on other planets? I imagine we'll all live."

"No," Smiling wryly, they both knew that wasn't what Kaylee had meant. "because you had to cancel with your client."

"I don't like to cancel appointments once they've been made." She busied herself with cloth on a spool at the end of the aisle. "but it's not too big a deal. I found a replacement Companion who'll be here not too long from now, they've both agreed to the arrangement, so the client doesn't miss out."

Kaylee wasn't even sure if Inara knew she had raised her hand to her cheek, fingers brushing the purple stain, before returning to caress the cloth. It was beautiful to Kaylee, but she knew Inara would not spend any money on it.

"Did he...?" She bit her lip, "Did Early threaten you, too?"

Inara paused, unsure how to answer.

"No." Blunt truth. "Not in that way. I imagine he didn't see that it was much of a threat to me."

Kaylee nodded, as if accepting the truth of what she'd already known.

"Yeah, probably knew it would scare the go se out of me, though. Coward."

Her hand closed too tightly around a tomato. She looked around before hiding it under the remaining stock. She could feel Inara's eyes bore deep into her, sizing her up. Neither of them pretended to misunderstand Kaylee's slur as an insult to Early, himself.

"You're not a coward, Mei Mei," A hand running through her hair. "Rape is an ugly, ugly thing that has been used by ugly people for thousands of years to threaten, humiliate and dominate others. Fear of it is real."

"Not for you, or Zoe." She felt petulant. "I doubt he would have threatened Zoe like that."

"No, probably not." Inara held Kaylee by the shoulders, looking her in the eye. "That man watched us for a long time, he knew more about us than anybody is comfortable with. He took us all on in a different way. He disabled those he saw as the strongest, physically. With Simon, he used reasoning, with me he used my own pride."

Kaylee quirked her head to the side.

"And me? Threats."

"No. He used your strength."

Kaylee made a face of dismissal.

"I mean it, Kaylee, you're a very sensual being."

"Me? I ain't no such thing..."

"Sensual," stressed Inara. "not sexual. You experience things, taste, texture, sight, smell. You don't just fix an engine, you caress it, you feel it's heart. You don't just eat food, you consume it. You can find joy in things most of us can't. Happiness isn't weakness, Kaylee, it's a quality most of us envy, if you need to know. He wanted to ruin that for you."

A smile teased the edges of Kaylee's mouth.

"Don't let him."

***

He watched them return to the ship, arms laden with goods. He'd known that the ship was landing, had prepared his house. An afternoon spent waiting by the cortex for a message that hadn't come. It's not as if they had an official arrangement, but he knew that if things were any different he'd be in more of a position to make it official. His trip into town was rather convenient, but it served his purpose.

A weaker man might try to convince himself that she was no longer with Serenity, forget the whole thing, move on. But he, no, he had to torture himself, prove to himself that she was still there, and hadn't bothered to notify him.

Johnson sighed to himself. He had known it couldn't last forever, but he'd been hoping.

"It's not you." A voice spoke behind him and he spun around to see a slip of a thing in a summer dress, also watching the two women. "She's mixed up and loud and frightened."

"Um..." Yup, a linguistic genius he was. "Okay."

"Not this time."

The woman reached out and ran a hand over his neck.

"Hey!" He pulled away. "What's that about?"

She licked her finger.

"Salt." Eyes met his. "Good salt. She'll be back one day."

***

"Just calm down!"

Voices rang loud in the ship. River blanched, reluctant to break into the waves that pushed her back. She'd been in a bubble, a focus of intention, had a plan and stuck to it. It lay in her hands, grasped tight, a prize to be offered.

"Just so you know, Mal, shouting like that won't make anyone calm down."

Boots on her feet. The planet didn't touch her skin, but particles had landed on it. Dust clinging to her legs and coating her arms, like the distaste of the man in the street. It couldn't be seen, but she knew it was there.

"You were there, Inara!" Mal's voice jolted her into the room. "You and Kaylee, both. You sure you didn't see anything?"

"She wasn't there, Cap'n."

Kaylee, soft and worried.

"They've got her."

Simon, cold and steel, resigned.

"Ain't no Alliance on Heathmore." Jayne growled. "Woulda smelled it a mile off."

Red flashed before her eyes, Mal glaring at Jayne. A current of fear and suspicion, from both sides. There were weapons being readied. Wash wasn't there, but River knew he was on the bridge, scanning official channels.

"Maybe she wandered off, your sister does that." Book, not believing his own words.

"She doesn't wander." River walked casually into the room, not surprised by their shock, but basking in their relief. "She goes shopping."

"River!" Simon rushing to her. "You're okay?"

"You went what?" Mal next to them. "Simon, your sister ain't to go off this ship alone."

"Rivers run free." She turned to stare stubbornly at him. "Serenity's not a prison."

"No." Face tight, he spoke slowly. "But you're a fugitive. And not known for your sanity."

"Captain!" Kaylee full of indignant outrage. "Ain't no need to be mean."

"Not mean." River cocked her head. "Outright. Worry makes a man curt and short, relief wells like acid and I'm happy I'm back, too, Captain. We can sail now."

Inara smiled to herself at Mal's indignation.

***

River poked a fork into her salad, pouted at it.

"The tomato is angry."

A beat. Jayne pointed his fork at her plate.

"Then eat it before it attacks us all."

"You'd probably turn it in."

She grabbed a roll and stalked off without looking at anyone, without bothering to hear them calling after her. Confusion for some of them. River was past caring. Emotions ran high and some of them were hers and some of them weren't and she had to deal with them all. Burn is a word that can be felt. So is soothe. She ran, feet bare again and home, finding a hold in the unlikeliest of places. She wanted air, cold air, but not outside air.

The counting would begin soon, until Simon found her, until the pierce of needle through skin, hot metal in the pulse of her blood, outside control working its way inside, followed by the haze, the unknowing that would break in a mess of tears.

Not this time, not this close.

Burn is a word that can be felt. So is soothe. So is Kaylee.

"River? Sweetie." Breathe, calm, not Simon. "Are you in here?"

"Most of me."

Kaylee pushed her way into the room, looked at the shaking form on the bed.

"Enough to keep me company. Are you okay?"

"It's everywhere and it's lost and I can't get it back."

"I don't think it's in my bunk."

River lifted her head and looked at the room, greens and browns and earth and light. She tried to smile.

"It could be."

***

"I've been cataloguing the supplies in the infirmary." Simon sighed over the table. "I think we need to restock some supplies, Captain."

"We were just docked," Mal started stacking the plates. "You couldn't have said that this morning?"

"Heathmore ain't got proper medical, Mal." Jayne felt odd, playing devils advocate for the doctor was not usually his style, but he understood the undercurrents in the room. "He don't mean weaves and bandages. He means a core planet. He means one with the same stock as Ariel."

Mal looked at Simon.

"You're running low on River's meds?"

***

"What have you lost?"

It was a loaded question, Kaylee knew that, feeling suddenly wary of the quivering jumble in front of her. No, not of her, but for her. There was a desperateness she felt in River, sometimes, an urgency to move forward and fast, far away from whatever was left behind.

"I didn't lose it." Sitting up now, dignified and deliberate. River picked at a thread on the blanket. "I know exactly where it is."

She looked up at Kaylee, ran her hand over her abdomen and poked her tongue out.

"The ocean salt." Reached out amid the brightness of it, grabbing hard at the calmness, grabbing hold of Kaylee and pulling her to the bunk, needed contact. "Jonah took it with him."

Air hissed through her teeth as Kaylee gasped.

"Jonah." A memory is a gasp. A flash of sound. "He was almost my ocean. But he saw them, knew them and they didn't like it."

Shaking hard now, River briefly wondered if she could stop even if she wanted to.

"Two by two, hands of blue. Insurrection. Who took it? Who has more than they were given? They will find out."

Kaylee was too scared to speak, afraid to break the concentration, the thrall River was in. This was something, she was pretty sure even Simon hadn't heard. Her arms flew around River, drew her in so that they sat together, River leaning back against her, her limbs securing the girl.

"All the pretty dolls in a row. Not the end, but only the means. They don't need you. Magda at the end. Who took it? Bang!" A shudder of pain. "No more Magda. River next. Oh, clever River, who knows everything. Tell them. They'll do it to you, too."

River pushed her arm out, pointing.

"Jonah has it." A tear sliding down her cheek. "Two by two, hands of blue. Listen to River, she knows. Don't let it touch you, not the blue skin, hands out bright in blood."

Her voice loud and growing louder, frantic and pain filled.

"Bang!" Mouth stretched in horror. "No more Jonah. He called me Bao bei."

Kaylee ran her hands over River's hair, her shoulders.

"Oh, sweetie..."

"Dead men don't talk, but their vibrations carry before they go cold. River closed his eyes and saw Adam. Save Adam. Meant to be the end, but only the means like us. It was Adam's rib they wanted. And Jonah left it with River."

She slapped at her head.

"And they dig for it, again and again. But they taught us, they showed us how to lock away the jewels so that no torture will find them. Put them in the eight fold fence. River made a thirty eight fold fence. No needles can reach it. They can't cut it out, even if River wants them to."

"It's okay." Kaylee shushed her, running hands down her hair and face, touching lips to the top of her head. "Shh, Bao bei, it's okay."

She wondered how River was supposed to believe her words when she, herself, didn't.

"Live." Kaylee whispered, suddenly understanding the full meaning of the advice. "And you did that."

***

"We can't run the same scam we did in Ariel. They know us by now." Mal's face twitched. "Alliance has us all over the cortex."

"She needs something." Jayne growled into his mug. "Anyone else notice who she focuses on when she's crazy?"

Wash grinned.

"Maybe she has a crush."

Jayne slammed down his mug.

"Maybe I'll fix that idea right up for you."

"Nice, boys, why don't you just keep squabbling?" Inara, ever the voice of reason. "That's helping a lot."

"We can't just walk into another core hospital and take a bunch of medicine." Zoe broke in. "We've done it once, we do it again and the Alliance will take note. They'll know what Simon's doing for River. And they won't like it."

"I'll do it."

They all turned to watch Kaylee step into the room.

"Now, Kaylee." Mal looked straight at her. "I know you're close to her now, and you want to help, but what makes you think you can do this? You ain't never been in a core hospital."

"She's getting better. Whatever Simon is doing is working." She looked at Simon. "She's okay, she's asleep now. We need someone who can walk into one of those places, someone who's not actively described on any of the cortex notices about this ship, ruling out you, Captain, Simon, Zoe, Jayne and just about everybody else here."

Kaylee breathed in.

"Simon can tell me what to do, what to say, how to act. Whatever it takes to get them to prescribe those drugs. Then we'll have a source. We can work with that."

"No." Simon stood up to face her. "They'll admit you, they have to. They'll pump you full of those drugs first. You'll be in their control for weeks, nobody is doing that."

"She's getting better! You want to risk that?"

"I know it seems that way, Kaylee, but there's no real proof she's getting any better. She can function, she interacts with all of us, but she can't even talk about that place without breaking down. I can't help her if I don't know what... I won't have you risk yourself."

"They killed her sweetie." At Kaylee's words, everybody went still. "He called her sweetheart and they killed him. He knew something and they killed him for it. River knows what it is and they'll kill her for it, too."

Disbelief and betrayal on Simon's face.

"How did you...?"

"She told me." Kaylee didn't look him in the eye, she knew there'd be hurt there. "One of the things they taught them was how to resist torture. It backfired. They couldn't get her to tell them what she knew. And so they tried to dig it out."

"Resist torture?" Mal bristled, "Why would they...?"

"You can't just dig into me, shove twenty needles in my eyes and ask me what I see." Simon echoed the words, only now realizing the literal meaning of them. "That's what she said."

"That fed." Jayne also stood up. "He said it was something in her brain."

"What did they do to her?" Inara couldn't stand still. "To them all? Torture? Killing? Mind reading? Why these kids?"

"Adam's rib." Kaylee tossed the words into the middle of the room. "That's what River called it. She said they were all the means to an end, that the end was Adam's rib."

"Kaylee. Not only are you the only person who can keep this ship in the air, you seem to be the only one to get through to her other than the doctor." Mal looked at her. "I'm not gonna let you put yourself in Alliance control for that long. We need you here."

"I'll do it." Everyone looked at Wash. "If anyone else is gonna act crazy, might as well be me."

Simon looked down.

"This is crazy."

Wash looked at him.

"Not yet, but I plan to be."

***

Kaylee climbed down to her bunk, carefully, treading lightly, not wanting to wake or disturb River. The girl lay curled in the sheets, breathing heavily, a frown creasing her forehead. She sighed, worried beyond belief for River, for Wash now and for the whole ship.

It had been her idea and she was okay with that as long as it was Kaylee in danger, Kaylee taking the risk, but it wasn't anymore. It was Wash and she had felt Zoe's glare on the back of her head when she'd left them there, still planning the job.

Something caught her eye. A box on her desk. River's words came back to her, she'd been shopping. Reaching out, she picked up the brightly wrapped package and slowly, gently, began tearing the paper away. Her nose twitched with it and she smiled.

"For you, Kaylee." River's voice, slurred with sleep.

Bright, red and swollen, the strawberry gleamed as it lay nestled in the tissue.

End, Part One.

COMMENTS

Sunday, August 7, 2005 7:34 PM

SUNYATSEN


Excellent characterization, especially for River. I had a hell of a time following what she was saying, but that's inevitable for me.

Monday, August 8, 2005 1:35 AM

AMDOBELL


Absolutely excellent! I am delighted you have decided to post it here where this story belongs. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Monday, August 8, 2005 7:49 AM

NUTLUCK


Very good story so far.

Monday, August 8, 2005 6:25 PM

MOSHPOGFAHFENG


It really drew me in. The story was true to the main characters. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

Sunday, March 5, 2006 7:39 AM

BURNANDBOIL


This is excellent fiction, it's complex and compelling. I'm catching up with this series!

Monday, June 5, 2006 3:03 PM

PRICEMERC


This is great. I love the way you write River, which i hear can be very difficult. You do it well. i especially like the line about Zoe glaring at Kaylee's back while they planned the job. great idea.

Monday, October 20, 2008 3:17 AM

RIVERRED


I really love this story, I have read this chapter and plan on reading the rest. It sets a whole new meaning to the relationship Kaylee and River can have for each other. Think for writing this and posting it on here.


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