Pairing: River/crew gen
Warnings: Spoilers for Serenity.
Word Count: 2565
Disclaimer: I do not know these people, this never happened, I am making no money off of anything.
A/N: For femgenficathon 2006. My prompt was, The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.--Ellen Parr. Betaed by erneuerung and bitter_crimson. Chinese taken from this website. The ending is a little rushed, but I just couldn't work on it anymore.
The captain thinks that bringing River along on jobs was his idea. She wanted him to think that. The truth is, one day River woke up more lucid than she’d been in a long time and realized she was bored. She wasn’t going to deprive Kaylee of her illusions that Serenity has endless places to explore, but after quite some time, River had explored them all. She wanted to see planets again, land, anything other than the ship and the black.
No offense, she told Serenity. You’re a good home, but I need to learn things I can’t learn just staying here.
Serenity understood. Serenity knew that River loved her and would always come back. They were good friends, River and Serenity.
So River started subtly hinting at Mal that she’d like to join them. It took her best skills to make him get the point, yet still believe that taking her along planetside was his idea.
Of course, Simon doesn’t understand. She hadn’t expected him to. Silly Simon thinks he still has to protect her. Not that she doesn’t appreciate it, but she doesn’t need it anymore. Why can’t he see that?
And then, before she knows it, there is life After Miranda. Life After Wash. She is Serenity’s pilot now, and Mal decides he doesn't need her with them anymore, despite her longing to be planetside for a little while. And for a while, River is satisfied. Learning to pilot is enough. Serenity mourns Wash and Book with her crew, but River is the only one who notices. There is a long stretch of time where no one will hire them, afraid of the Alliance more than ever. It’s all right, though. They’ve got enough to live on for now, and Zoe’s not in much of a mood to get back to work, anyway. (River is the only one who knows this. Zoe won’t even admit it to herself.)
But that is before they get a wave from Niska.
“Oh, no,” Mal says. “No way, no how. I’m not losing no more extremities.”
Zoe says, “I think we should take the job.”
Everyone but River gapes.
“Tāmāde,” Mal says. “Why in the hell would we do that? You know Niska, Zo. We’ll never make it out of there alive. We may’ve gotten lucky the first two times, but you know as well as I do that we ain’t got near enough luck to last us a third. And I ain’t losing any more crew members, either.”
Zoe looks Mal straight in the eye and says, “No disrespect, sir, but we need the money. If Niska’s the only one contacting us, I think we need to do it.”
Jayne stands up from the table. “Am I the only one here wonderin’ why the sumbitch woulda waved us in the first place? Correct me if I’m wrong, Mal, but don’t he want to see us dead?”
Mal sighs. “He said we was square now and he was willin’ to give us another chance. Seems our little stunt with the Alliance and the reavers impressed him some.”
“Of course it did,” Simon groans. Kaylee, beside him, squeezes his hand.
Mal says, “Much as I hate to think on dealin’ with the chùsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo again, Zoe’s got a point. All right. Three of us’ll go in. The rest of you will stay on the ship as backup in case we need rescuin’.”
“I ain’t goin’,” Jayne says instantly. “Man scares me. An’ anyway, someone’ll need to come in with guns ‘fore you idiots get yourselves killed.”
“Fine, except that leaves a bit of a problem,” Mal says. “No offense, little Kaylee, but I don’t see that you or the doctor’d be much help. And I ain’t askin’ Inara –”
“I’m standing right here,” Inara points out. Mal opens his mouth, but River jumps in first.
“I want to go. I’m not scared of him.”
“Mei mei, no,” Simon says. Kaylee looks concerned.
“Don’t see why not, ’cept for the part where there’s no one to fly the ship,” Mal tells River. “Seems to me you’re mighty helpful to have along in a crisis.”
“I can fly the ship,” Inara says immediately, looking at River. “I’ve been flying my shuttle for almost a year, give or take a bit, and if it’s only for a short while until you get back, I’m sure I can handle it. River can show me what to do.” She smiles at the younger Tam.
“Well, that’s settled, then,” Mal says.
Simon looks like he wants to protest further, but River silences him with a look that says, Who saved all of your hides from countless reavers? “Fine,” he says grudgingly.
River can’t wait for this new adventure. She looks around the room in excitement. Why is no one else happy? They have a job!
Five days later, they land on Boros. (It turns out that Niska’s hub was destroyed a few months back by the Alliance, suspicious of anyone who looked like they had off-planet operations going on.) Planetside at last!
River waves goodbye excitedly to Simon, Kaylee, Inara and Jayne. Everyone but Jayne waves back, though Simon still looks a bit apprehensive. River’s glad he’s got Kaylee to take care of him now so he won’t worry too much while she’s gone.
“You have seen what kind of man I am,” Niska says dryly, “and I have seen what kind you are, Malcolm Reynolds. You are very brave, and very stupid. I am counting on both of those qualities now.”
“What’s the job?” Mal asks warily.
Niska smiles. River says, “Altered. They don’t know what they are, not like before.” Zoe shushes her, but Niska only looks intrigued.
“You have brought a reader with you? Perhaps I have underestimated you, Malcolm Reynolds.”
Mal growls, “Just tell us what you want and we’ll be on our way.”
“Patience. All in good time. First, I tell you where you are going.”
Zoe pulls River aside while Mal and Niska work out the details. She appears to be looking at River, but River knows she’s actually paying very close attention to Niska in her peripheral vision. Finally, Mal says, “So what are we transporting, if you don’t mind my askin’?”
“You will be transporting these.” Niska holds up a large box with tiny holes in it. There is a great buzzing sound from inside.
“What the gorram hell is in that thing?”
Niska smiles. “Flies.”
“Not anymore,” River says. She has to warn Mal, they’re not what they appear.
“What’s she mean?” Mal asks skeptically.
“It is true, they have been genetically altered. But keep them in their cages and they will not hurt you.”
“Uh, sir?” Zoe says. “Remember our little talk about not shipping any more livestock?”
Mal pulls her aside and says quietly, “Remember our other little talk about how we really need this job?” He turns back to Niska and plasters on a fake smile. “We’ll do it.”
River doesn’t have to read minds to know that Mal and Zoe are taking the job with great reluctance.
It never goes smooth.
On the way back to Serenity, River spots a blue glove lying on the ground.
“Bugs?” Jayne makes a face.
“We need the money,” Mal replies. “’Sides, they’re all in boxes. Don’t see what the problem is.”
“What kind of bugs are we talking about, exactly?” Simon ventures.
“Genetically engineered kind.”
“Genetically engineered to do what?”
“How’m I supposed to know?”
Simon makes a frustrated face. “If you don’t know what they are, how do I know what to do on the off chance they get out and start attacking us?”
“There are more important things to worry about,” River says quietly. “Hands of blue are coming.”
They all turn to look at her. Simon says, “Mei-mei, they’re gone. Everything’s okay now, remember?”
“Not okay, never okay as long as they want to get us, want to hurt us, they can’t hurt you, Simon, I won’t let them, but we have to hide better now –”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, who said anything about hurtin’ you?” Mal stands. “Nobody’s gonna get you, little albatross. We’re all safe on the ship.”
Serenity says, I will protect you.
River says, “Not enough to save us.”
River sticks to Simon’s side when he leaves the room. Can’t let him out of her sight. Something could happen.
He doesn’t notice that this is out of the ordinary for several minutes, until River attempts to follow him into the bathroom.
“Mei-mei, no. You can wait outside if you have to.”
“Won’t look,” she says. “She needs to make sure he’s safe.”
“River, we’re safe here. Nothing’s going to get us.”
“Were safe. Not anymore.”
“Nothing’s changed,” Simon says, looking her right in the eyes. “You know Mal would never let anything happen to us.”
“They know where we are,” River whispers. Simon walks her back to the galley, where Inara and Zoe are talking quietly, something they started doing shortly after Wash died.
“Excuse me,” Simon says. “Could you two look after River for a minute? I’ll be right back.”
“Of course,” Inara says.
River clings to her brother. “Won’t stay if you leave.”
Zoe arches an eyebrow questioningly.
“Can’t, can’t,” River rants. “It’s dangerous out there. They’re always looking, can’t hide, sought and found. No safe place.”
“I’ll be right back,” Simon tells her. “I just need to use the bathroom.”
River grabs his arm. “No, no! Not alone, never alone. Don’t go, Simon. Need to keep an eye on you.”
Inara comes over and says, “River, sweetie, he’ll be back in a minute. You need to let him go. He’ll be fine.” River feels her sharing a glance with Simon over her head.
“She understands more than you think,” River says. “No need to hide.” Thoughts are never hidden. Out in the open, everything is complicated.
Simon clears his throat. “Yes, well… I’m just going to leave now.” He attempts to detach himself from his sister, but she won’t let go. “Come on, River.”
She gives him an all-knowing smirk. “Nope.”
Zoe comes behind River and grabs her arms. River doesn’t move. “No element of surprise,” she says.
‘Get Mal,’ Zoe mouths to Inara, who quickly leaves the room. While Zoe is distracted, River wrenches out of her grip, while managing to maintain her hold on her brother.
“Come on, River,” Simon pleads. “I’ll be right back.”
And then Mal and Inara are there; Mal strides across the room and Inara follows behind cautiously. “What’s this, little albatross?” Mal says, looking at River.
River says, “Albatross is this ship’s bad fortune. She’ll bring a whole heap of trouble down on you and yours.” If Mal recognizes his own words of long ago, he doesn’t show it. He simply says,
“Way I see it, we couldn’t get things done ’round here without you. You’re the best pilot we got and a damn good shot, besides. Anyway, we’re outta the woods for the moment, remember? Alliance has too much trouble on their hands with no one believin’ them. They’re not gonna go lookin’ for us.”
River shakes her head and murmurs, “Hands of blue don’t care.”
“What?” Mal looks at Simon, who seems just as mystified as he.
“Two by two, hands of blue. They’re coming for us. Both of us this time, because they know our weakness. Then they’ll come for Serenity. We have to hide.”
“Can’t hide in the black, little one. ’Sides, none a’ that’s gonna happen. We’re safe now.”
Zoe hands Simon something. River knows she’s about to be sedated, but she almost doesn’t care. She’s exhausted, and maybe in dreams she’ll find some relief from this constant nightmare.
There is a slight pressure on her neck, and the world goes black.
When she wakes up, everyone is gone except her brother. “Simon,” she says, beginning to panic. He hears it in her voice and comes over immediately.
“River, shhh, it’s okay. I promise.” He is trying to be comforting, but he isn’t, not this time.
She struggles against him, fighting with all her might but while she is strong, he is prepared for this and holds her down. “River, listen. They’re done looking for us, all right? No one’s coming after us anymore. It’s over. We’re really safe this time.”
“Hands of blue, Simon,” River says frantically, trying unsuccessfully to pull out of his grasp.
“They’re gone,” he says, looking at her with such sadness in his eyes it breaks her heart. But he’s wrong – the glove was a sign, she’s sure of it. They’re being followed.
“Have to keep you safe,” she tells him. Simon smiles at her softly, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He is thinking, that’s my job, keeping you safe and I can take care of myself, but there are things he doesn’t know, can’t know. “Don’t put me to sleep again.”
He sighs and lets go of her, finally, taking her hand as he sits by the bed. “Don’t scare me like that again and I won’t have to.”
The job goes off smoothly. Mal is stunned for days but doesn’t say anything, not wanting to jinx this extremely rare luck. Of course, it helps that most people are still talking about the message they sent through the cortex – even most folks on the core are up in arms. The Alliance is unpopular, for the first time ever, and this distraction is enough to get the flies delivered and paid for without a hitch.
The other thing that helps is that River doesn’t go with them. Helpful as she can be on a job, in her current state of mind she’d be more of a danger than anything. Not that she wants to go – she’s preoccupied with taking care of Simon.
The day the message comes through on the cortex that the next war has started, they are on their way back to Niska with the money, and River and Mal are piloting together. Mal smiles grimly and says, “Hope this works out better’n the last one did.” His thoughts are jumbled, a complete mess, and River doesn’t even know where to start. He and Zoe start having long talks late at night when they think everyone is asleep. River barely sleeps.
One day, word comes over the cortex that flies have been let loose on both sides, flies that seem hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything in their path. They are only on the core. Mal groans but doesn’t seem surprised. His talk with Zoe is especially long that night. Within a few days, doctors contain them and stop them from spreading more damage, and the war resumes.
It is over within weeks. The Alliance wins again, but there’s no way to control the damage anymore. People talk too much. Soon, many high-up government officials are being forced to step down, and one day River smiles genuinely and says, “It’s over.”
She is calmer than she has been in a long time. Simon just looks at his sister. “What is?”
“The academy. It’s gone. No more hiding.”
River loves Serenity, but she knows every nook and cranny. One day, she will explore its outside, but for now, tagging along on jobs is enough to sate her boundless curiosity.
Chùsheng xai-jiao de xiang huo: Animal fucking bastard
Mei-mei: Little sister