Author: Patrick Sanders
Spoilers: Fair game up to "Objects in Space."
Disclaimers: All characters property of Fox, Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended, no profit realized.
Author's Notes: As always, this story is dedicated to WillowX.
Chapter One-The Lamb
“Wy-ers. Pretty pretty...wy-ers. Lots and lots of...wy-ers. Wish I could do sumthin’ ‘bout all these...wy-ers.”
Kaylee sat and regarded the pasta splash in the open panel, the cover tucked just under the control deck of Serenity’s cockpit.
There was a little enclave for such repair work, the drawback being the mechanic would have to be fairly small for there to be any maneuverability. Which she was, so it worked just right.
The wires regulated the anti-grav throughout the length of Serenity and Kaylee could tell something was most almightily amiss. Folks had been complaining of dizzy spells and serious feelings of the throw-ups, feelings that had made the Bull-Lobsters Book had surprised the crew with at dinner to loose some of that genetically spliced succulence. It was sweet of the shepherd to do that, his best to ease the tension after Early.
There wasn’t much talk anymore in Serenity. Mostly folk stayed in their individual quarters, mindin’ their own matters. Wash with his dinosaurs, Inarra with her clients, Simon with all the gobbledygook he gotten off his sister’s medscans back at Ariel, Book with his devotions, the Captain with his...well, whatever he did with his minuscule leisure time.
Yeah, it was the anti-grav. Just off enough to tamper with that little part of the brain that kept folks on balance. What was that called? She’d ask Simon. Next time she saw him. If she ever felt like she could talk to him again.
She could repair the anti-grav, save she couldn’t do that without switching it off first, unless she wanted a powerful case of the sparkies. With the Captain’s temperament being where it was, she doubted he would show her much charity after finding himself airborne. Maybe the sparkies were the better choice. So she sat, stared, sang and fiddled with her suspenders until she felt the subtle shift in the airflow. Someone was standing in the doorway.
“The tree is good for food, and it is pleasant to the eyes, and it is a tree desired to make one wise.”
She turned, craned her head a little bit and saw River. She wore nothing but a little white slip that was not nearly as opaque as modestly would have liked. She was barefoot; she liked to walk ‘round like that. She shouldn’t do that because Serenity’s surfaces would cut the skin up. Kaylee was about to tell her that, also remind the passenger that Simon would not care for his sister to be wondering around so sheer, when she saw what River had in her outstretched hands.
It was an apple, round and smooth as an Alliance standard planet. It was a dull yellow color, what folks used to call Golden Delicious back on Earth.
“Eat thereof, then your eyes shall be open, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
She remembered Sabbath days back home, her pa would collect the whole brood for church. She mostly tuned out the sermons with thoughts of boys and engines, ‘til the Eucharist. She saw in her mind the frail shepherd, his face racked with ancient scars, hands like vulture’s claws holding out the sacred bread, the flesh of the Risen Lord. Now she saw River standing in his place, her soft hands firm on the wafer, eyes full of passion, her voice flooding the cathedral forbiddening any to daydream.
Kaylee pulled out from the crawlspace and stood. A conversation with Simon’s sister was not often desirable, but it was always entertaining.
“Yer spendin’ time with the Shepherd, ain’t ya?” she asked, forcing a smile.
“With the Book. Don’t understand. Won’t match the calculations. Like it though.” River was trembling, and her voice was uneven.
“Best not tell the Captain that. He don’t like God talkin.’”
“Don’t care what he likes,” River said, the left corner of her mouth curling up and exposing sharp teeth. She thrust the apple at Kaylee, fingers trembling, mouth quivering.
“Take it. It’s yours.”
“No River. Ain’t hungry. Why dont’ca go back...”
Tears began to glisten and then to flow. Kaylee was beginning to call Simon when the dam broke and the squall of madness washed over her. Over them both.
“Won’t come near me. Won’t talk to me,” River incisors bit her lower lip as she spoke, “won’t ever smile at me. It’s ‘cause I stole your apple.”
“You were startin’ to like me. You were callin’ me sweetie. You said you would braid my hair. Then you stopped. Just death from you. No more life. No more Kaylee. You’re mad ‘cause I took your apple. Now I give it back to you. Life’ll come back. Sun shines on moon, moon gets stronger than sun.”
Kaylee took the smaller girl by the arm.
“River, I’m gonna take you back to Simon now.”
“Why? I don’t wanna see him. I wanna see you.”
“He’ll give you something to help you-” Help her? Help her what? He didn’t even now what was broken about her.
River’s hands lost hold of the apple, and it fell, slantwise at an angle that one didn’t have to know much math to realize wasn’t right. It hit the deck and broke off a chunk that ricochet in the opposite degree, angle still skewed. Damn.
Kaylee turned from the apple’s little dance back to River’s face, that wide, pale face of hers, that face by all reckonin’ hadn’t held a smile, not a real smile, since she was fourteen.
She wasn’t trembling anymore. Her voice was even. Her breath was steady.
Kaylee looked toward the hand grasping River’s wrist. Her hand.
She was calm.
The scattered, shrieking creature that had brought aboard in a box was slipping away. River Tam was returning.
Just ‘cause Kaylee was holding her?
She felt River’s pulse through her wrist. At first it was rocky, then frantic, then steady, and now soft. It almost felt good.
“Simon can fix you.”
“I’m not a machine. It’s all I am to him. I’m not a machine to you. She isn’t a machine. Not to you.”
“Who are you talkin’ about?”
River slipped her arm backwards through Kaylee’s hold. She grasped the palm and guided it across the curves of Serenity , against the walls, through the curves of the doorway. She led the mechanic to the grimy controls and swept their conjoined hands across knobs, switches and gears.
“Her. She isn’t a machine to you. When you touch her she’s alive. I can hear her breathing, sometimes, in bed, when the Blue Hands leave. I listen and she chases them away.”
“Blue hands? What does that mean? River...are those...are those the folk...”
The girl brought Kaylee’s hand up from Serenity . She looked her in the eye, brought their hands between, kissed and kissed the interlocked figures. She waited for Kaylee to finish her thought. There was no panic to be seen about her.
“Are they...the ones that...hurt you?”
“Hands of blue...two by two... cut me with steely knives...delivered me up to you.”
Then the miracle happened.
She brought Kaylee’s hand to her mouth and held it there for a moment before letting go.
Kaylee pulled River close. Soft, wet hands wrapped around her waist. She offered her shoulder and it was taken. River shifted all of her weight to the mechanic and Kaylee felt none of it. She was light; Kaylee had always known she wasn’t very strong and yet she felt as though she could hoist River all about the ship without fatigue ever setting in.
Her skin felt like silk.
River began to droop and they both sat down, curling legs against each other, personal space a cipher. The floor was cold and dry. The girls were warm and wet.
“It’s what I do” Kaylee began without thinking first, “Can’t help it, nope, nope, nope. I got two girls I got to take care of. Got to make sure they’re happy.”
“I’m your girl?”
The jolt of what she had said, should have been sufficient to part them. It wasn’t, River’s hold was too strong. Much stronger than Simon.
Simon. Simon was the one she wanted. The one that held her. The one that made her feel all shiny, Simon was the one she was supposed to be with...
Simon never felt this good.
Simon’s arms were never this strong.
Simon’s breath was never this soft.
Simon’s laughter was never as natural.
She felt River’s little nibble of a breast nuzzle her own and she wished she wasn’t so wearing so much clothing.
River rose from Kaylee’s shoulder and braced her forehead against the mechanic’s.
“Say my name.”
River tiled her head and brought her mouth closer to Kaylee’s.
“I like it when you say my name. It makes me feel safe. I know who I am when you say my name.”
They both shivered.
“River Tam. Your name is River Tam. I’m Kaylee and you’re River. You’re River and you’re safe here. Safe with me.”
No, she wasn’t.
The wet, silky feel of River was gone and there was only the rough, sharp edge of Early. Early and his mouth, so in love with itself. Early and his mouth that could break a little girl down, that could make a little girl say things...no, she couldn’t push it off on him. She had opened her own mouth and had spoken her own desire. River instead of her. He could rape and slaughter little River but as long as Kaylee was safe...
She tried to pull out, pull away from River. There was a flash of rage in River’s face then, a fiercer fire than could have ever dwelled in Early, but she let them part.
“River...I can’t...” she said as she stood.
“You can,” River followed.
Kaylee was almost out of the cockpit with River took hold of her arm. She felt the little dents of her fingernails through her shirt. Then, they eased. The grip loosed.
River wasn’t angry or afraid any more. Her face was stoic and still her eyes were kind.
“I didn’t protect you River. I told him where you were. Early. I sold you out to him. It ain’t ‘cause of some apple. There’s no life ‘cause there’s just shame. I ain’t like you, or Zoe, or the Captain. I’m weak, I’m a coward...”
“Humans are like that. They fall over, they’re not always right. They were born that way. Book calls that original sin. Then they get up again. They try to do it again. Book calls that atonement. Soon they’re walking tall. Book calls that redemption.”
Kaylee was starting to smile.
“You could make a good Shepherd.”
River smiled such a smile this time. Brighter than a thousands quasars across the night’s sky. She smiled with every muscle of her face, maybe with a bunch she wasn’t supposed to have. She pulled her friend close to her and Kaylee held her snug this time.
“Kaylee is my lamb.”
The mechanic held back what she wanted to say.
“I’m sorry,” she said instead, “I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry I’m so weak. I won’t ever do that again. I won’t ever let anybody hurt you again.”
“I know,” River ceased her, “You’re strong. I know it. With me. With you. We’ll both be strong together. No power in the ‘verse.”
Kaylee held her mouth against River’s bare shoulder. She pulled away and inhaled.
There was no exact description that could be given of River Tam’s scent. Sure there was the greasy, sweaty musk that coated her, but once you got past that...when you breathed in River...it was almost too strange. It was an organic smell, a smell unaltered by any synthetic fragrance. It was sweet and rich ... she was sweet and rich. It was like ... strawberries. Strawberry smell, River scent, incense of a girl. She wanted to drown in it ... she wanted to drown in this rich and strange river.
Kaylee sneaked across River’s skin, paused at her throat, kissed the curve of her neck. Just with her closed lips, no drooly spit, no tongue. Totally innocent. It was just a sign of affection between friends.
By all the stars in the ‘verse, the only thing nicer’n touching River’s skin was kissing it...kissing her...
“What the hell you doin’?”
They broke the embrace. Captain Mal, with little tolerance gracing his features, was heading their direction. Wash was a meter or so behind.
“Um-um...hi Mal...anti-grav workin’ just fine...River...um...she got lonely...needed some confortin’”
“Well, if she does, I think her brother might be better to handle that...understood? He’s lookin’ for her by the way.”
River had scuttled behind her now, her little ounce of modesty at last kicking in. She held Kaylee’s waist tight. Kaylee reached back and held her tight. She felt River’s breasts press against her back and her breath on the skin of her neck.
“Got’cha. That’s right were we has headed. See the doc, doc fix ‘er up just right. ‘Kay River?”
“Oldfellow chokit his Thursdaymomun.”
It was now official, Mal now lost all temperament.
“Get her away from my cockpit and for that matter, don’t ever let her inside it again, if she goes banazi again-”
“Don’t talk to her like that!”
The expression on Mal’s face shifted. Tense and angry became almost languorous shock.
He’d never seen anything approaching anger strike Kaylee.
“Captain, if you want me to keep helpin’ out ‘round here, then you start talkin’ nothin’ but nice to her. She ain’t gonna go banazi, and if she does, we’ll just direct ‘er at Jayne.”
River began to laugh, a great breath-sucking, vocal cord damaging laugh, and Kaylee’s normal, everlasting-cheerful face came back.
“I’m...I’m sorry,” Mal began.
“Not to me,” still a smile, little toss of her head backwards.
“Captain Tightpants,” River said, no offence given or taken.
Wash laughed and Mal repressed the desire to just cold-cock him right then and there.
“Okay...okay...deserved. We’re going planetside and I’ll need the landing gear down.”
Kaylee began down the corridor, just a slight skip in her step with River coming close behind starting to mimic. Kaylee made a note to really fix the anti-grav as soon as a real grav had settled in.
Wash’s eyes lingered a little too long on River’s see-through and Mal cuffed him on the forehead. Hard.
“Planetside remember? Ball-and-Chain remember?”
“Planet got a name?” Wash asked, rubbing the already swelling skin.
“Araby? THE Araby? Business or pleasure?”
“Bit of both,” Mal gestured toward the flight deck of the firefly.
Before he passed through the doorway, Wash turned to the captain.
“Hey, Mal? You don’t think?”
“Don’t pay you to think, Wash.”
“Really think it was just...you...know...‘comforting’ going on?”
“Wash, I will cut them off myself you ever ask another question like that.”
“Affirmative, captain,” the pilot said, having no wish to test Mal’s sense of humor, and headed inside.
Mal stood alone for a moment and brought his hand to his chest, grasping the cross that was no longer hanging there, the cross that hadn’t been hanging there for six years. Would of thought he could have gotten used to its absence by now. Gotten used to His absence by now.
Well, a stronger call than the call of faith was plaguing him and that one could be satisfied. He went and folded the steel throne from its hatch.
“Look like more’n comfortin’ to me,” Wash said as he settled before the controls, to nobody in particular. To the Black, that’s who, the Black. “Looked a lot more than comfortin’. Looked like old fashion hanky-panky to me-”
“Aww...gorram it! Gorram it! KAY-LEEEEEEE!”
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