Peanut butter, we got
Thursday, January 9, 2003

A vignette: After “Serenity” River tries to understand her new life with Mal’s help. (NOT a M/R story, not at all)


Author’s Note: This story was inspired by something I read in Rosie Magazine (I hate that magazine, just for the record, but given a choice between it and staring blankly at the ceiling, well, my convictions falter). Anyways, this story would have happened about 45 minutes after the end of “Serenity,” and steels the punch from a lot of the conversations in “Train Job” – which is just fine with me because, timeline wise, “Train Job” make no sense whatsoever (like you can have a near-fatal gun shot wound and be up and about in less than three months of intensive physical therapy (Shameless self promotion, see my fic: Therapy)). Anyway’s that’s the stitch; enjoy and thanks for reading.

Peanut butter, we got

River wondered through the ship. It felt like a dream. One of those annoying dreams people only have when they are extremely hungry or thirsty and yet, are too tired to wake up and remedy the situation. A dream where there is a waterfall that you drink out of, then you think you wake up, and go to a large fountain to drink out of, then you think you wake up and go to a drinking fountain, then you wake up for and you realize you are in your bed and none of the thirst-satisfying situations you conceived had done you a bit of good: you still have to get out of the warm bed and find something to drink. But River knew this was not a dream, because she wasn’t in pain and she wasn’t afraid. Of course, her stomach did hurt a little. It felt hollow and seemed to twinge. She was hungry. Simon had said the drugs would help her sleep. He’d wanted her to sleep. She didn’t understand why. It occured to her, as she crept past him, sound asleep on a couch, that perhaps he wanted her to sleep so he could sleep. Perhaps he thought she needed sleep. Perhaps he knew that they were living in a dream and a fantasy. She wasn’t sure. Her thoughts seemed to shift, like puzzle pieces in a box. They were disjointed, unformed. She hadn’t had to think for so long, or maybe she hadn’t been free to think for so long. Her head started to hurt, to twinge, just as her stomach was. She started to feel dizzy. Her vision blurred. The ship seemed to tilt under her. She quickly reached out and groped for the walls, falling into them, sinking down, instead of falling hard onto the floor. She was shaking, shivering, and there was a dampness on her cheeks. She had to gasp for breath. She realized, with a detachment that would have concerned any sane person, that she was crying. She longed for Simon but the memory of his kind face hovering over her, his hand around hers, even his unconscious form slouched on the couch seemed to her distant, like imaginings. Maybe this was a dream; there was pain now, it was different, but it was definitely pain. “Hey, now,” A soft throaty voice said from behind and above her. “What’s this here?” “I’m sorry,” River said, curling herself into an even tighter ball. “Not too much!” “Too much what?” the voice said. It sounded confused. It was a trick; she was still smart enough, still cogent enough, to know that. “The door was unlocked,” she whimpered. “Not escaping. Dreaming, walking, wanting, but not taking.” “Ahhh,” the voice said, a little uncertainly. “Where’s that qing dai fu? ” “No,” River sobbed, even more incessantly, never uncurling herself from her little ball nor looking up towards the person to whom she was pleading. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Don’t cut her, please. Please, she’s in pieces already. Some got lost.” “Ya say you’re lost?” the voice said. It was closer and a hand touched her back. It didn’t hit her back, or grab her and force her to stand. It just touched her, gently. Like Simon would have touched her. She suddenly was very confused. Either this was a trick, which would lead to more pain than she could presently even understand, or the voice was right, and she was very, very lost. She turned her red-rimmed eyes and saw a face that looked familiar but she didn’t immediately recognize. It was a man, with sandy brown hair, thin pursed lips and blue eyes that had seen many, many horrible things. She knew it was a face that could be terrible and be kind, but she wasn’t sure which side she would be shown. “I’m sorry,” she said again, but less frantically. “I’m sure you are,” the man said matter-of-factly. “What you doin’ up and about without your brother?” “Simon,” River said, the name felt awkward in her mouth. A fact which made her feel guilty. “I thought he was a dream.” "You ok, xin gan ?" River stared at the face. She was helpless; she knew that. This man, who ever he was, had every advantage over her. He was bigger, stronger; he knew where he was and he appeared to have the ability to tell fantasy from reality. She had to answer his question, and he would know if she were lying. They could always tell if she lied. "No," the girl said in a whisper. "What's the matter?" he asked with a very unscientific tone in his voice that confused her. "I . . ." the girl said, her voice catching in her throat. "I don't know." "Ya don' know what's wrong with you?" the man said slowly. The girl shook her head, clearly ashamed of her shortcomings. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "No need to be sorry, sweetheart," the man said. His tone had changed. It was still soft and kind, but less inquisitive and more authoritative. "Come on, we'll go find yer brother and he'll set ya right." "Simon," River said again, trying to get the name to sound natural. It had felt natural, once, a long time ago, she was almost certain, almost. "Yeah, that'd be him." "He's asleep," she said softly. "I guess he wanted for himself what he gave me. But he didn't understand that I'm different, that I changed, that those things stopped working a long time ago." "Right," the man said after a beat. "Well, then, if you don't want to wake him up I guess I could . . ." "He rescued me," River whispered, her brow wrinkling as she tried to understand the reality around her. "He did." She turned back to the blue eyes looking down at her; they were all compassion and concern. "You rescued him." "I did help him a bit," the man said, his eyes darting away from her. "But I get the feeling he’s gonna find a way to earn his keep.” River didn’t understand that. She didn’t understand any of it. She was in a place she was clearly not supposed to be in, with a man who knew that she was where she was not supposed to be. Her blood was hot with terror, and yet, every piece of evidence she felt she could trust seemed to lead her to the conclusion there was nothing to fear. “Well,” the man said, then he cleared his throat and stood up. “It won’t do for you to spend the night cowerin’ down there. I’ll take you back to your brother.” “I’m not sleepy,” River said, as the man hoisted her gently to her feet. “I wanna wake up.” “Can tian di, ” the man said. “Yer lighter than a feather, when’s the last time you ate?” “I . . .” the girl said, feeling lightheaded now that she was back on her feet. The man didn’t let go of her arms. He held them firmly, supporting her. “I put food in my mouth and I chew and I taste.” “That’s the general idea.” “When they give you food you have to eat it,” she said. “That’s the rule. You have to eat everything.” “You talking about yer school?” the man asked. He was walking slowly, leading her somewhere. She didn’t know where, but she knew it didn’t matter. She was too weak to fight anything and, for the moment, she didn’t even want to. With his arms wrapped around hers, she was actually warm. And the more she talked, the more real things felt, the more the jumble in her head settled, the less afraid she was. “No,” River said, her voice cracking a little. “The rules. I’m breaking them.” “Well, I’ve never put much stock in rules in general,” the man told her. He lead her too a door and, wrapping one arm securely around her, he reached out and opened it. In front of them was a kitchen with yellow walls and vines stenciled on all the posts and pipes that ran through the room. As the man flipped on the light switch and it was suddenly illuminated, River realized where she was. “This is a home,” she said. “For people.” “Yeah,” the man said. “Watch them steps.” “Watch them do what?” the girl asked, her eyes on the uneven steps as he lead her down. “Watch that you don’t trip,” the man clarified. “I already fell.” “Reached yer quota, did you?” There was a chuckle in the man’s voice. River craned her head to look at him in the light. He was younger than she’d thought he’d been. “Who are you?” She asked. The man smiled, and chuckled again. She didn’t understand why. “I,” he said jovially. “Am Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Right now we are on my ship, Serenity. This is my home and, fer the time being at least, yours too.” He lead her to a group of soft chairs at the edge of the kitchen, and lowered her down onto a plush red one. Once she was sitting, he knelt down and, now that they were, again, eye-to-eye, he smiled at her charmingly. “Now, I’ve introduced myself. It’s yer turn. Mind tellin’ me your name?” River’s eyes grew wide. This was a trap; this whole thing was a trap. She’d suspected it, but had been too disoriented to find any evidence to support her suspicions, and had, foolishly, dismissed them. But being asked her name, that was the quickest way to being punished, everyone knew that. “Student Alpha Tango Class Twelve Blue,” she said, her voice trembling. “I know who I am,” she insisted, “I’m a student, I know that. I know that!” “River,” the man said, his very gentle, very compassionate eyes trying to lull her back into his set-up, trying to trick her into betraying herself. “Your name is River Tam.” “Student Alpha Tango Class Twelve Blue,” the girl sobbed. “It’s in the computers, it’s on the charts, it’s on my tags, it’s in my head.” “Now, you listen to me,” the man said, his voice suddenly authoritative and strong. River sucked in a quick breath and pursed her mouth shut, biting down hard on her lower lip. She stared up at him with her dark brown eyes and, for some reason, Captain Reynold’s anger or frustration faded. When next he spoke, he just sounded tired. “Yer name is River,” he told her. “Your brother risked everything to get you out of there. And I risked an awful lot when I said I’d keep you two on, and I don’t say that to hang it over yer head or force some sort a twisted gratitude out a ya. But you ain’t there. You ain’t a student blue class twelve, or whatever the hell they told you you were. You’re River Tam. Understand?” “She remembers being River Tam,” the girl said. “And that’s who she is in her deepest thoughts and secret dreams.” “Here, that’s who she is all the time,” The captain said, his voice had a note of formality in it. River stared up at him, amazed, as if his assertion had just inspired the great democratic-revolutions of Earth-that-was. He must have found her gaze unnerving, however, because he quickly turned away, muttering, “You just rest here. I’ll find you somethin’ to eat.” River nodded obediently, her eyes following him as he entered the kitchen. “So,” he said, “What’cha want?” There was a lull as River’s eyes sunk off of the captain and onto the well-swept floor. “Umm,” the captain continued, “We only got standard fair and I ain’t exactly one who could make you a meal out a this stuff. But there’s protein-bars and carb-bars and fiber-bars, those ain’t too good, though. Umm, we got crackers and this orange salty stuff that they claim is cheese ta spread over em, also got this gray salty stuff, I think it’s supposed to be meat flavored, so, you know, if that’s your fancy . . .” He glanced at River; she was staring ahead, wide eyed, overwhelmed with the choices that were being presented her. It had been years since she’d been offered food beyond than the assigned meal times, years since she’d had any say in what fair she was offered, years since food had been a matter of consideration. She could not, however, vocalize her bewilderment, so Mal continued listing things to eat. “Ah, we got some canned stuff, fruit mostly, peaches, pears, might actually have a fruit cocktail if you like, and veggies too, corn, string beans, peas. We,” he laughed again. It was such an odd thing, hearing a laugh. “We got lots and lots of canned carrots. Kaylee got it in her head that with all this artificial light carrots would be good fer our eyes so she made Wash pick up an extra crate a them. ‘Course, no one’s particularly fond a carrots so . . .” the story died into a stream of chuckles. “And then there’s, ah, soup, powdered soup.” “Wait,” River said. When Mal actually stopped talking, turned to her, and said, “Yeah, sweetie?” she wished she’d held her tongue. “Nothing,” River quickly said. “No,” Mal shook his head and took a step closer to her. “Somethin’ in that list sound good?” “I just,” River said uncertainly, “I don’t understand.” “What don’t you understand?” Mal asked, confused. “About the carrots,” River said, mustering all her braveness, forcing her trembling voice to produce each bold, nigh defiant, word. “You didn’t finish the story. I don’t understand what happened next.” “Well,” Mal said slowly. “Nobody likes carrots, so we don’t eat ‘em and we got a lot.” “Oh,” River said softly. “I see.” Mal looked at her skeptically; she was supposed to be a genius, but she wasn’t acting like one. Still, she was probably tired and confused. She’d have plenty of time to be brilliant later. “Got any clue what you want to eat?” She shook her head, “Eat what you’re given, what’s on your plate. That’s the rule.” “I told you, I don’ put much stock in rules. Rare’s the time they done me any good. This ship, the point of her, is ta have freedom. You got the freedom ta decide what you want to eat tonight. Seize it.” “I don’t know,” River whispered. “Well,” Mal sighed, “What do you like?” “I don’t know.” “When you were a kid what did you like?” “I don’t know,” River said a third time, a tear streaming down her face. “You don’t remember?” River paused for a second, and thought back. “Simon’s sitting in the garden,” she muttered softly. “He’s studying. But I want to play. So I tackle him. I run and I jump on him. I break his computer pad. He tries not to be mad, but he’s not too good at it. And we have to tell Mom, ‘cause she needs to see his homework, correct the spelling. And she has to tell Dad, ‘cause computer pads are expensive, three weeks allowance, and you can’t just break one. And I go to bed without supper. But, but late at night, when I’m crying and I’m hungry, my door opens a crack and Simon comes in with a glass of milk and peanut butter sandwich. And we play checkers while I eat, and he takes the dishes back to the kitchen, and he washes them, and nobody knows. Just us.” “That there’s a sweet story,” Mal said after a minute. “There ain’t no milk and there ain’t no bread for a sandwich. But, peanut butter we got.”

The End


Thursday, January 9, 2003 8:43 AM


This is just lovely!

Thursday, January 9, 2003 12:29 PM


Do they at least have jelly?

Cool character interaction. I don't know about Mal calling anybody "sweetie" though.

Good insight into River's character. Very nice.

Thursday, January 9, 2003 4:30 PM


I think that this is a great character study. I can imagine that it must be hard to find River's words. That dialogue never pulled my focus. I agree with goldenthorn on the "sweetie," though. I think that the Mal and River path could be a fruitful one. You're much farther down it than I. What do you see?

Saturday, January 25, 2003 7:20 PM


Only thing that sucked was realizing that they're all going to go blind soon. ;)

I dunno about "sweetie" either, but I can't talk since in my maiden voyage into Firefly ficdom I have him call Kaylee "sweetheart."

I had a hard time believing that Zoe and Mal couldn't do a damn thing for Kaylee's stomach wound, but they patch old Book right up after he gets shot in "Safe", and in my uneducated opinion, a bullet in close proximity to the heart would be more fatal than one to your belly. Course next ep he seems to be just fine and dandy. That left me thinking that 500 years from now, all "very smart" doctors and all Gestapo Space Cops are damn good at puttin' folks right after they've had a fatal wound. lol

Saturday, February 1, 2003 7:10 PM


I really enjoyed this. Don't care that Mal isn't as ornry as he's usually shown. Late at night, dealing with an obviously wounded child, maybe he doens't need the defenses of acerbic wit and 'I'm a bad man' attitude. :) River is written note perfect, and Mal is how I'd like to imagine he could be when necessary. Dong ma? Thanks for posting,and please keep writing about Mal. :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003 9:16 PM



I have to say, this is one of my favorite fics. It's a great character study, drawn with a delicate but sure hand. Lovely--and thanks.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003 11:21 AM


You amaze me! Short, simple and yet soooo good!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005 6:05 PM


Great job. You write River very well - I can't wait to read some more of your stuff!

Thursday, April 20, 2006 10:14 AM


Your River is very good. I really enjoyed listening to her. Mal didn't quite sit right for me, but it wasn't the "sweetie" as much as the "yer". Just one man's opinion, though.

On to the story - this is a very nice read. I like the setup, I like the premise, and I enjoyed the outcome. Very nice, indeed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 9:17 AM


A moment with Mal's defenses, nice. I liked the story, I think you captured a moment that tells a lot about each character.

Friday, December 15, 2006 4:07 AM


A very pretty moment.


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The fall out when Two by Two catch up with Simon and River

Honeyed Thorns: Part five of five
A happy return to the status quo

Honeyed Thorns: part four of five
Simon tries to bring back Inara, Kaylee confesses, and Mal discovers that prison is a good place to network.

Honeyed Thorns: part thee of five
All that stuff that happened in the first to chapters . . . it keeps going, only racier and more exciting.

Honeyed Thorns: part two of five
Inara leaves, Mal’s arrested, Kaylee’s rescued by a talk, blond, and handsome stranger and Simon gets a history lesson

Honeyed Thorns: Part one of five
Inara leaves Serenity after realizing Kaylee’s big enough to look after herself and there are lots of men on the ship that can help her move her things. (Follow-up to “Heart of Gold”)

The picket fence
Simon's dreaming . . . no not about *that* you sickos . . .

A not so happy ending
This is the last chapter to “Ties that Bind” for space reason’s (and because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the over all plot) It didn’t get attached.

Ties that Bind: Home and Family
A long string of warm fuzzies.

Ties that Bind: Time to Leave
A great escape, a fist fight, heart reaching confessions, unabashed flirting, and tearful goodbyes . . . what else could you want?