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Firefly: A Simple Twist of Fate, (River/Wash), (10/14), NC-17.

Title:: A Simple Twist of Fate, chapter ten
Date Posted: 28 June 2007
Author: srichard and van
Rating: This chapter: PG-13
Characters: River, Wash, crew
Pairing: River/Wash
Word count: 5,622
Warnings: Begins pre-TV series, completely AU, will invovle underage romance.
Summary: Blue Sun's Academy brings two unlikely people together.
Disclaimer: Co-written. We are not affliated with Mutant Enemy, Joss, Firefly/Serenity, Unversal, Fox or anyone. If we were, we'd be making money off this. We mean no harm. Title from the Bob Dylan song. Crossposted to ff_fanfic.

Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

River was dressed in one of Kaylee's old dresses, faded and worn, and she held an embroidered top and flowing skirt in one hand. "These?" she said, looking first at Simon for approval, then at Wash for...something else.

Simon nodded thanks to Kaylee and Inara, frowned a little, then nodded to the clothes in her hand. "Wouldn't you rather wear those?"

River shook her head. "Too fine for common use. We're common now, Simon."

Wash approved of all the clothing—anything that made River happy made him happy—and kept a smile on his face, though he didn’t really feel it. “Thank you, both of you,” he said to the women.

Kaylee was all grins.

Inara nodded. “She’s a delightful girl.” Her tone sounded genuine.

Wash approached River, touching her arm fondly. “I like them. It’s a nice color.”

River smiled shyly at that, then tucked the other clothes under her arm. "Simon needs me," she said, then thought for a while, trying to remember the proper words. "Thank you."

Simon wrapped his arm around River's waist, guiding her from the shuttle back to the passenger quarters. "River, I need to ask you some questions."

River nodded. "I know. But you have to know. I kept him blind, made him stupid. It's not his fault."

Wash was glad to leave the shuttle; it smelled too heavily of the type of women he was used to. He trailed Simon, trying not to let the sight of his arm possessively around River’s waist make him jealous; it was her brother. “Well, that makes me feel loads better about myself,” he sardonically said.

Simon ignored him. "What do you mean, River?" he asked carefully.

"Innocence should be protected," she said sadly. "I tried, but then I showed him things and hurt him. But I hid the truth, all I could. Kept a blanket over the cage."

They made it to the passenger lounge and Wash sat down on one of the sofas, figuring it’d be easier for the three of them to talk in the open, as opposed to cramped inside one of the passenger quarters. “She didn’t want me involved.”

"I see." Simon sat down with River, still holding her close. "Mei mei, I need you to tell me what they did to you."

Her brow furrowed. " hurts. The truth. Hurts everyone except me..."

Wash watched them, figuring Simon was acting over protective just to annoy Wash. He tried to ignore him. “It’s all right to hurt us, a little, like this. We’ve come this far, already.”

River looked at Wash, eyes wide with confusion. "He's my brother," she said, then laid her head on Simon's chest. "Promise not to hurt. Promise."

"I'm a doctor, River, remember? Tell me what was done."

Slowly, her face hidden, voice muffled at times, broken at others, River began to outline her "treatment" for him.

Wash listened, trying to hear her as best he could, without scooting closer to Simon. Most of the words he didn’t understand, but from Simon’s reactions, he gathered things weren’t going too well.

Simon let River talk until she was done, then began just rocking her back and forth, his face hidden in her hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered helplessly. "I'm sorry...took so long..."

River sobbed. "I knew. Knew you would hurt..."

A strong part of Wash told him to get up and walk away. This wasn’t part of his story. It was their reunion and the rekindling of their friendship; she was fine with Simon, without him. The rest of him refused to budge, because to leave would be to let Simon win. His body refused to turn away from River crying.

Wash got up, but only sat again, beside her. He wouldn’t pull her away from Simon, but he laid a hand on her leg, just to let her know it was all right.

Simon held her close for a long while, then lifted his head. "You're right. I'm not being a very good doctor, am I?" he said, laughing a little, his voice rough.

She shook her head. "The best. Always were." She let one hand slide down to touch Wash's hand, to comfort him.

Time passed slowly on Serenity, but it was peaceful, and warm, and quiet. Wash tried to enjoy it because things were going to change once they hit Boros. He wasn’t even sure Simon was going to let him come, although he doubted that River would allow that.

Still, if he was lucky, he could access some accounts, and get some money. The girls had provided for River, and Simon had packed well, but no one had provided for him. He had the same grey Alliance trousers and Hawai’ian shirt he’d been wearing since the review.

He went to River’s door and knocked. “We’re close.”

"Beginners, act one?" River called through the door.

Wash smiled. “Yes. And Lovers, act two, maybe later.”

"Death and the Maiden," River said, opening the door and looking at him. "Will you still do what I say?" She was looking around skittishly, her head cocking as if listening to invisible frequencies.

Wash just kept smiling. “Yes, providing they aren’t orders like ‘leave you’ or ‘kill you’ or such.” He reached out to touch her. “You nervous?”

She caught his hand. "Yes. Variables are doubled. No plan, can't plan."

Wash squeezed, gently. “No plan, then. Let’s get your things. I’ll carry them.”

"Wait. Follow." She moved slowly, silently towards the cockpit. Wash, ever obedient, followed.

"We're gettin' a wave," Helo said, glancing up at Mal, who was distracted by Kaylee, who was bothering him for new engine parts.

Wash expected any moment to be pushed off the bridge; they weren’t allowed to be there, especially not during landing.

Mal didn’t see them, or ignored them if he did. “Put it through.” He turned back to Kaylee. “All right, I’ll get your gorram casing when we hit land. Calm it down.”

"Captain Malcolm Reynolds," a crisp voice came through the speakers. "This is Boros Alliance police cruiser Delta Gamma Nine. You are suspected of harboring fugitives on your vessel. You are hereby ordered to dock your craft at Alliance port 4568 and prepare for boarding. Failure to comply will result in immediate retaliation. Do you copy?"

"The curtain rises," River whispered to herself.

Wash felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Mal’s face went stern. “Ai ya. Tian a,” Mal breathed, then perked up, stepping closer to the monitor to reply. “Hello boys, there a problem we don’t know about?”

“Cut the flippantries,” the Alliance officer said. “We know you’ve got two fugitives on board your vessel. Stand down now, and I can assure you, your crew will not be harmed.”

“We need to go,” Wash said to River. “Now.” He tugged.

"Wait," she hissed.

Mal cut the connection and whirled, his eyes lighting on Wash. "You." His gun was in his hand instantly. "Gorram fool boy should have known better. Still gray, ain't you? Ain't you?"

Wash didn’t understand, at first. Then it clicked. “You think I called the Feds?” He shook his head vigorously. “You must be out of your mind!”

“Cap’n? What’s goin’ on here?” Kaylee asked, backing up into the bulkhead.

"Wrong," River said in her strongest voice. "Not him. Simon searched him. Please!" she added frantically, once again in the position of begging Mal for Wash's life. She whirled, pointing her finger directly at Helo. "Him!"

Helo's face underwent a telling change at River's words, and his gun was in his hand immediately. "Hey, now. Don't have to go down like this."

Mal kept his gun on Wash, but turned to look at Helo. “Son of a bitch, Helo, you called the Feds on my boat? You called the gorram Feds on me?”

“Not you, Mal. Them.” Helo waved his gun at the pair. “Sweet reward for all of us. Think you best just do as the Feds say, and let them dock. Best for all of us, we get them off this boat.”

Mal leveled his gun on Helo. “’Fraid it don’t work that way.”

"It never works that way," River said, with some odd sort of satisfaction in her tone.

"Shut yer mouth, little girl."

"We can't let them get took like that," Kaylee said, eyes wide. She was edging towards the comm. device. "Ain't right..."

"Kaylee, keep out of this," Mal said warningly.

In a fast movement, Kaylee grabbed the device. "Zoe, Jay-" A flash of light and deafening report halted her mid-word.

Wash ducked, trying to pull River down with him. Kaylee hit the floor and Mal fired at Helo, but the pilot had already moved; Mal’s bullet put a hole in the chair. “Zoe!” he shouted. His eyes looked to Kaylee, bleeding a mighty puddle on the floor. It was a mistake, as in that instant, Helo darted around and planted a high kick to Mal’s head. It sent him tumbling to the ground.

River drew a deep, shuddering breath, and then her face changed. Even as Mal was struggling to rise again, she sprang into action, whirling behind Helo, catching his outstretched arm and snapping it neatly so the gun fell from his hand, knocking him from his feet. One quick blow to the head and he was unconscious on the floor.

River backed away, trembling. "Simon!" she screamed. "Simon!"

“Jesus,” Wash breathed, hardly able to believe what he’d just seen.

Mal didn’t understand how the tide had been turned so fast, but he knew it was over, and that Kaylee was shot. He moved to her, pressing his hands to her wound. “Get that doctor brother of yours in here, now!”

Wash scrambled to his feet. “Go,” he said, touching River’s arm.

“Baby?” Zoe cried as she pushed past Wash, spying Kaylee in a pool of blood. She was by Kaylee’s side in a flash.

Helo was writhing on the floor, stricken silent with pain.

The ship suddenly shivered, and Wash’s gaze drew to the planet looming through the view screen. The communication link was flashing, as more waves came through, but Serenity had maintained her course, starting her unmanned decent into Boros. Proximity alarms began going off.

River grabbed Wash's arm. "Fly!" She shook him a little, then ran, screaming Simon's name.

Kaylee was looking dazed. "Cap'n... everything’s so loud."

"Shh..." Mal was holding her tightly, still trying to staunch the wound. "Where's that gorram doctor?"

“He’s coming,” Wash said weakly. He eyed the controls. “Don’t suppose you’ve got a back up pilot stashed away somewhere?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he slipped into the pilot’s chair and began going over all the controls. The ship hit the atmosphere and began to shudder.

Zoe cursed as she tore open Kaylee’s flight suit. “Can’t have that kind of turbulence at a time like this!”

Simon came running, bag in hand. "Oh, God. What's happened--someone help me get her to the infirmary!"

"Traitor," River said succinctly, pointing at Helo. "We're running. They're here." She leaned over Wash's shoulder, still trembling... "But they're too close..."

Jayne muscled in after Simon. He took one look at Kaylee and scooped her up, to carry her out. Zoe followed.

Wash held the unfamiliar ship together as best he could, easing the trembling significantly, but it still wasn’t safe. The Alliance ship was also still tailing them. “Run,” he repeated. “Run--how do we out run the Alliance?” He turned to look at who was left in the bridge with him. “River, bao bei, smart girl. This is a Firefly—can you turn the engine? I need to go hard burn.”

“In the atmosphere?” Mal asked, incredulously. “That’ll burn us up.”

Wash grinned. “Burn them up too. We can Ivan out of here.”

"Not an approved maneuver," River said anxiously, then ran off, bound for the engine room.

Mal's face was grim. "You wanna give me one good reason why we're runnin' instead of handing you over?"

Wash didn’t look at Mal. He had to concentrate. “Because you know as well as I do they’ll just count you as accomplices. Which you are, need I remind you. Also, the only doctor likely to treat Kaylee is on our side.” He reached up and grabbed the commlink. “You in there, River?” he asked.

"Places," River replied clearly. "Everyone in place. Act two."

Wash laughed. “This is how we make love,” he cheered. “Everybody, hang on to something. Simon, I hope you’ve got Kaylee strapped down.” He gauged every angle, felt for the controls he was utterly unfamiliar with, and then flipped them.

The engines rotated completely around and Serenity was suddenly spinning, headed straight toward the Alliance vessel. “Now, River!” he shouted.

A twist, a pirouette, and levers pulled, and then they were in full burn, shooting forward above the Alliance ship, the burn sending the cruiser spinning towards the ground as Serenity climbed higher and higher.

Wash’s face was tense in concentration as he held Serenity together. She rocked hard against the full burn, and the atmosphere ignited brilliant white around them. Then, they slipped back out into the black, and the rattling stopped, and they arced through the darkness. He didn’t ease off the throttle, wanting to put distance between them. He didn’t glance at Mal, just picked up the comm. again, and said, “We did it.”

River was silent for a time. "Following?"

“No, not yet. But they will be, if anyone survived.” Wash eased out of hard burn, but kept her flying fast. Their fuel was low, and he was aware of that. His eyes turned to look at Mal, then to Helo, who was now slumped unconscious on the floor. “We need to land somewhere immediately; get off the radar. Probably not a bad idea to dump him, too.”

"I'll deal with him," Mal said, his face hard. He went away for a moment and returned with a set of handcuffs. Flipping Helo on his belly, he put them on him, not minding the shattered wrist, then began dragging him down the steps with no tender care. "Meet in the galley in ten."

Wash didn’t ask where he should lay in a course to; there were only a few places they could go, so he picked the leastinhabited and headed there. Once the course was laid in, he set the ship on autopilot and hurried out to find River.

River sat in the corner of the engine room, face in her hands. She was gasping a little, the sudden shock, the violence, having rather undone her. She didn't look up, but heard him come in. "Wash..."

Bao bei,” he whispered, dropping to her side to gather her into his arms. He stroked her hair lovingly, placing a kiss on her brow. He had been calm and cool while piloting, but now he was afraid, remembering the blood in the cabin that so easily could have been hers.

"He's going to kill him. Shouldn't let him. Can't stop him...his ship...hold me, I don't want to hear it..." River babbled frantically, clinging to him.

Wash held her close, almost pulling her into his lap. “We’re all right,” he said softly. “Everything is fine.” He tried to murmur soothing words into her ears, but the thought of Helo being killed, even though he had shot the mechanic, made his blood run cold too. “I’m here.”

"I hate it," she sobbed. "Why did we come here?" Her hands fisted in his shirt.

He didn’t point out that Simon made them come, against their will. “It isn’t for long. We’ll leave soon. Don’t worry. It’s just for a little bit.”

She shook her head. "Have to get used to it. He's a violent man..."

Wash eyed the door to the engine room. He could hear voices faintly, wafting to them from the stairwell. “Seems like they all are, out here, away from civilization.” He shifted, leaning against the wall, and brushed her tears away with his fingertips.

"Civilization is worse." River tensed as there was a sound of doors opening and closing, hiding her head in his chest. Her fingers were bruising as she held onto him. "I hate it..."

Wash pulled her even closer, protectively to him, but kept his eyes hard on the door, watching the corridor for new arrivals. His tone dropped to a whisper. “At least we’re together.”

River was abstracted, then gave a little scream, beginning to wail softly. It was done.

Wash tensed, confused, then felt a chill settle over the ship. He tightened his hold on the girl, aware that his hopes that the captain might be lenient on Helo were unfounded. “Is the girl going to be all right?” he asked softly,distracting. He knew she’d know.

"S-Simon can-" she began.

"He better. Everyone in the galley now," Mal ordered, moving into the doorway. He crossed his arms, glaring at them.

Wash stared at Mal, but the captain was already gone. He stroked River’s hair one more time before loosening his hold on her. “We’d better do as he says.” He offered his hand to her.

River nodded and stood up shakily, moving towards the galley. She squeezed Wash's hand tightly as she went, needing the comfort.

Mal watched as they all, save Kaylee, and Zoe, who wouldn't leave her side, assembled themselves around the table.

"She's...stable, anyway," Simon announced, dropping into his chair. "For now."

Mal eyed Simon carefully, before turning his gaze to Wash and River. His expression was cold. “You’d best hope she stays so,” he said. “I already lost one crew member today. Don’t much care to lose another.”

Inara stood by the stairwell that led to the crew quarters, her eyes focused on Kaylee’s dress that River was wearing. “I can’t believe Helo would—”

Mal silenced her with a glare.

"Should I look at him?" Simon said, sounding tired. "Someone said River broke his arm..." He looked at his sister, still a little in shock.

"No need," Mal said coolly.

"But I can set it--" Simon insisted.

“Already took care of him,” Jayne stated, pointedly.

Wash drew River a little closer to him. “I set a course for the farthest moon off Santo,” he said. He paused a moment, then asked, “What’ll you do with us when we get there?”

"Well, now, ain't that the question..." Mal stared at them, particularly at River. "I'm guessin' there's a fair bit we weren't told about this little mission...but that's air through the engine. Happens, we're a pilot short, and it don't look like any of you are safe anywhere from Sihnon to Burnham."

“Mal, you can’t be serious,” Inara started, appalled.

Mal gave her a curt look, then continued, his eyes drifting to Simon. “Kaylee pulls through, then we might have something to talk about,” he said. “She don’t, though, then maybe y’all will be gettin’ off on Santo.” His eyes returned to River. “Can’t say any of you are endeared to me yet, but you pissed off the Alliance, and that tickles me a bit.” His face hardened again. “Made me lose a pilot, and maybe a mechanic, though, and thems ain’t so fun.”

“How long until we reach the farthest moon off Santo?” Simon asked, his eyes trained on Mal, though the question was directed to Wash.

“Less than a day,” Wash replied softly. “What do we do in the interim?”

River wasn't paying attention, just stared at Mal. "We didn't take away your pilot. He betrayed you, and you threw him out the airlock. I was merciful. Broke an arm, sent him to sleep. You sent him to death." Her tone was neutral, her gaze fixed.

Mal met River’s gaze. “That’s the price you pay you betray me, or my crew,” he replied. His eyes returned to Wash. “Interim, you sit tight in your quarters and pray to your God that Kaylee makes it.”

River looked unhappy, and rose, hurrying away from the table. Simon moved to follow her, then stopped. "What did you mean, about something to talk about?" he demanded.

"What I said. Do your job, doctor."

Simon didn't bother to remind Mal that he didn't work for him, just shook his head and returned to the infirmary.

Wash wanted to follow, but he stayed his ground, at least for a moment. Simon thought he was in charge of their little group, but he was the oldest, and the most experienced, and he felt he was somewhat the responsible one. He was, at least, for River. “We didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” he said. “And I’m sorry.”

Mal shrugged. "Don't much matter what you meant, I got a mechanic I could use for a colander." His coarse words belied the very real worry in his voice. "And a pilot...s'ppose that ain't your fault, but it ain't convenient either."

“All the same, I’m sorry. She’s a sweet girl.” He glanced to Inara. “River hasn’t had a lot of friends, lately. I think she enjoyed spending time with them.” He realized he was running his mouth again and moved away, to follow Simon and River down the stairs. At the doorway, he paused, looking back. “I’ll fly your ship, if you promise not to hurt her.” He leaned heavily on the doorframe.

"Who, the girl?" Mal shrugged irritably. "Ain't issued any threats, have I? And as I been good enough not to shoot you, I don't see why in hell I'd start in on her."

Wash nodded. “You’re a man of your word, that much I can tell. You promise you won’t hurt her, I’ll believe you.”

Mal's eyes narrowed. "Inara, get back to your shuttle. Jayne, go...go clean your guns," he said, waving a hand irritably.

Inara looked ready to protest, but Jayne bumped past her and she shot away from him, down the stairs to sit with Kaylee. In a few seconds, Wash was alone with Mal. He remained standing in the doorframe, watching him.

Mal paced towards Wash slowly. "You don't issue demands on my boat, dong ma?"

Wash pulled himself straight, feeling very much like he was being issued orders by a superior, even though he estimated that Mal couldn’t be but a few years older than him, if that. “Wasn’t trying to,” he replied. “Just hoping to protect River.”

"The girl's under my protection like every person on this ship," Mal said coldly. "Unless they give me some reason to revoke it. She don't mess with me, I don't mess with her."

Wash eyed him carefully. “Fair enough, though, as you saw, she’ll defend herself if she feels threatened.” His tone was light. “I’m not trying to complicate things, sir. I’m just trying to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Mal shrugged. "Seen that. You want to tell me, by the way, just what she was being trained to do at that gorram Academy?"

Wash shrugged. “I just taught her to fly. Clearly she had some other training as well.” He let the thought hang in his mind for a moment. “Super soldier, maybe?”

"Assassin, maybe. How'd she know about Helo?" Mal demanded. "How'd she know what I done?"

Wash nodded, conceding. Then he looked away, uncomfortably. “She knows things, sometimes. Psychic, I’d say, if it didn’t sound so far fetched.”

"A reader?" Mal gave a low whistle. "Seems like she might be of use around here her own self."

Wash found it hard to believe that Mal believed him. He didn’t say anything though. “I’m not so sure as to why we’d be too keen to stay on a ship where the captain has no qualms about throwing his pilot out the airlock,” he said. “Bad though he may be. Besides, we’re fugitives, remember?”

Mal leaned against the wall. "You know what would've happened if he'd lived? He'd've betrayed again, and again, until someone ended up dead. Never did trust him much, but good pilots—they’re hard to come by out here. 'sides, ain't fugitives supposed to flee? Kinda implied by the name, ain't it?"

“You must be more of a wordsmith than I,” Wash mused softly. “But, we are fleeing. I don’t know what plans Simon has. He didn’t plan for me.” Wash eyed Mal carefully, wondering what life might be like for the three of them on this boat, with this crew. He had lived like this before, and he could do it again, but he wasn’t sure if Simon and River could adapt.

Mal pushed away from the wall. "Don't matter so much. Kaylee dies, ain't nobody gonna have a happy ending, though no, I ain't threatenin' you or the girl. Now get back to your quarters."

Wash managed a small smile, nodding. “Yes, sir.” He turned, heading to the stairwell that would lead him to the passenger quarters, and River.

By the time they landed on Santos, Kaylee was sitting up, though Zoe still wouldn't leave her side. Mal was grudgingly impressed, and River floated about like a ghost, watching everyone, hardly talking at all. When they sat down at a fueling station, Mal called another meeting.

River watched him closely. What was the right answer? Was this the right answer? Simon should know, but Simon... She bit her lip and squeezed Wash's hand.

Mal crossed his arms over his chest. "Seems to me the situation I mentioned is still in effect. I'm a pilot short, and...well, wouldn't hurt none to have a medic 'round here." He glanced at River. "Don't know about the girl, but I imagine she'll come in handy. Seems capable of it, anyhow, if she don't go monkeyshit and kill us all."

Wash held River’s hand, but kept his eyes on Mal. The three of them had, briefly, discussed this. Barring a miracle being dropped in their lap (and this very well might be it), they weren’t going to get a better, safer option. It wasn’t ideal, but if they could work for this crew for a time, and save their money, then perhaps eventually, they could buy their own ship someday. “Well, it’s certainly a better option than having you turn us in for reward money,” he said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.

"That supposed to be funny?" Mal demanded, his face tight.

River looked a bit anxious. "Yes. Violence is safety and safety is nowhere, and we have no options. This is home now."

Mal nodded, but looked to Simon as the de facto leader of their group. "Well, Doc? Give you a twenty percent cut of the funds, 'twixt the three of you, and board and such."

Simon shook his head. "I don't really understand where this offer is coming from...but it's our only option."

“Then it’s settled,” Mal said. “We finish fueling on Santo, and head out. We got jobs to run and money to make. Wasted more time than I wanted to already.”

Wash, feeling belittled, squeezed River’s hand tightly. He felt a little like he’d just sold his soul to the devil. “Home sweet home,” he softly said.

River nodded, then walked away from the table, back to her quarters, knowing Wash would follow. No one remarked on it, as Jayne was busy picking a fight, and Mal was busy shutting him up.

Wash was too glad to leave the galley, to be alone with River. Things in that room could go from peaceful to tense in fewer seconds than Wash was comfortable with.

When they reached the ground floor, he said, “You all right?”

River shook her head. "No." She ran a hand violently through her hair, and she was shaking a little. "No." She moved to sit on the bed, looking up at Wash to join her, to hold her.

Wash moved to her, gathering her into his arms effortlessly. “It’s just a for a bit. Until we make some money and can get on our feet. Then we can get our own ship. See?” He stroked her hair. “Then we can do anything you ask.”

"We're bound now. Bound by blood. Anyway, it isn't that." She shifted so they lay on the bed. "Been...had to be right, more or less, more or less. Now it's done. I'm tired, Wash, so tired..." Her eyes closed, she looked impossibly fragile.

He wondered if she wasn’t sick; if he shouldn’t call Simon to check her over. Touching her softly, he knew that wasn’t the case. They had just had too much happen. He didn’t like the set up, or the situation very much, either, but they were safe, at least for not. He drew her to him and found all the happiness he needed in the freedom of being able to draw her close to him. He closed his eyes. “Rest then, River. I’ll be here.”

"Simon's already giving me things. To counter effects. The last doll will die, though not by his desire. When...?" She needed him, needed to formalize, bind him to her, gain him for herself. She had to. He was all she had to hold together what she was and had been.

Wash felt warm. He shifted a bit, on his side, so he could look at her. He traced a finger down her nose and over her lips. “You tell me,” he softly said. “When it’s safe, and you’re confident. You just tell me.” He leaned close, to kiss her. “And I’ll tell Simon to stop giving you things. You had enough things at the academy. Doesn’t he know that?”

She shook her head. "Wash...I'm not normal. Won't be, maybe, ever again. He has to give me the things. Makes me quieter, makes it quieter inside. He's doing his best. It won't be like before, I promise."

Wash stroked her hair confidently, but inside, he was a little afraid. The drugs had always taken River away from him, not made her better. It was hard to trust Simon, who looked and acted so much like those cold Core doctors, to be doing her good. He closed his eyes. “I believe you.”

"Will you...start touching me? In the ways that you want? I won't know if she's dead if you don't touch, won't know what I want, when I want..." She opened her eyes, willing him to understand.

Wash smiled softly, nodding. He continued to stroke her hair softly. “Tonight,” he quietly said, “when it’s quiet and everyone is asleep.” He kept his eyes closed. “Though, I do admit to being a bit afraid that Simon’ll come skin me, if he finds out.” He was joking, just a bit, with her, because he desperately needed someone to still appreciate his humor.

She giggled and shifted so she was more on top of him, closer still. "I'll keep you safe. I'd wake up if he skinned you."

Wash sighed, smiling. His hands encircled her small waist as he let her shift them. “Might serve you better if you wake me before he skinned me.” He craned his neck up to kiss her, but could only reach her neck, so he kissed her there.

She made a little, pleased sound. "Do you like the captain?" she whispered.

“What?” He laughed softly. It was such a strange question to ask, in a moment like this. Then again, she was a beautiful, strange girl, and he loved her. “I think so. He’s bastard, but honorable, I think.” He kissed her neck again, in another place. “Do you?”

"Not yet," she said hesitantly. "He's hard. Full of pain. I believe...I believe there's more. But can't feel it, not yet." She turned her head a little to look at him. "Where are you going to touch me, tonight?"

Wash smiled. “I hadn’t quite decided yet.” He’d let the topic of Mal drop. “Do you have any recommendations?” He grinned at her, pleased he could play at least with one person on the ship and not be looked at like a fool.

"I thought you could start at the top," she said thoughtfully. "And work down. Unless you like my feet best? But if you do, perhaps you'd best finish with them anyway."

Wash felt a warm flush come over him, but he tried to ignore it. “I think that’s a very good plan,” he said. “Top to the bottom.” He smiled broader. “We should ask the captain if we can go shopping a bit, before we take off.” He patted her rump. “You’ve got lots of lovely new dresses, but I don’t think anyone’s going to loan me any clothes, and, we should probably . . . get some things to prepare.”

"Prepare?" River looked a little perplexed at that. "And will you find me a dress to match your Hawaiian shirt? You promised..."

Wash decided he’d worry about the preparation later. He just nodded. “Yeah, and a dress to match my shirt. Maybe we’ll get me a new shirt, and a dress for you, to match.” He sighed, softly. “Wish I could have emptied my accounts before we left. They’re probably frozen now.” They’d have to rely on Simon’s money, unless Mal paid them an advance.

"I'll ask Simon," she promised, and kissed his cheek softly. "He already paid three hundred credits for you, can't grudge a little more."

Wash nodded. “Tell him I’ll pay him back, at least for my things.” He touched her cheek and thought they ought to go out and ask for permission to go shopping, before it got too late, but he didn’t want to dislodge her. “Go ask. Night will come faster if you do.”

River blushed a little, then rose and went off, pausing to smooth her hair a little, to try and maintain the façade. For Simon.
Tags: river/wash, simple twist of fate

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