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Jack of Hearts

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Summary: Kyra 'Jack' Serra. A minor trip into the hospital results in a major change. A change from petty thief and child, to a Big Damn Hero and strong young woman. xOver with Riddick

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Firefly > Non-BtVS/AtS StoriesDearestDrusillaFR1519122,31433213,53430 Jul 1218 Jan 14No

Milosz

Inara didn't jump when Richard's frame took up her doorway. He'd come not moments after Mal had left, mouth like a fish as the captain's brain struggled to understand what Inara had told him. No, Inara didn't jump or even flinch, she was rather glad someone had come along. Someone she could ask about the idiocy every man seemed to carry within him. She didn't look when Richard entered the room either. The man needed to understand that he was welcome to her domicile as much as Kyra and River were. It took him a moment to fully relax, it always did, but the large man settled in the chair he'd taken to sitting in since his arrival. Inara and Jack both had started calling it his chair, a chair neither of them had ever sought out, a chair Inara had bought years ago for a reason unknown.

“Not sure which is worse, Slam City waffles, or the love game on this ship.”

“I'm sure the waffles pass eventually,” Inara laughed lightly.

The convict laughed, a deep sound that rumbled through the shuttle; Doo came to investigate a few seconds later. Richard's hand rest on the dog's head, playing with it as Inara thought on what to say. How to ask it just right so she could communicate her thoughts in an intelligent way.

“Mal is trying to think.” She smiled up at Richard; she refused to call him anything but his name. “He's not very good at it.”

“Noticed that while we were planning our last job.”

He accepted the tea she offered him and not for the first time, Inara was glad the media was wrong about the man. An animal? Maybe, but most of the people she sailed with were hardly better. Richard at least said 'thank you'. She'd yet to get a 'please' from him, but maybe one day. Maybe when they had to go hunt Jayne down in the event he ever hurt Kyra.

“Overheard a fair bit of things.” He was looking into the cup, goggles pulled up in the dim light of her shuttle. “You really think you can take it on?”

“This is my home. This is my family. I'm going to do what it takes to stay here and make sure they're safe.” She refilled his cup. “You included Richard.”

“Really now?”

“Contrary to what most think, I do remember my time in the orphanage.”

The two of them sat in a comfortable silence. Inara's time at the orphanage had been shorter than her sister's, but some memories never went away. Inara could still remember what their parents were like. She could remember the bone chilling fear that she would wake up with her father standing over her bed and her mother screaming in the corner. That the stone walls of the state home wouldn't be enough to keep him out, she was almost convinced of it back then. There were still times when she would wake up terrified that this had all been some glamorous dream. Not often, but sometimes, when she'd gone to bed fearful or tense. Richard joining them on Serenity made things alright, because Inara could remember the boy who always stood up for the girls, even if it meant getting the brunt of things.

“Gotta say, three of us turned out pretty well.” His silver eyes were focused on the wall. Flickering across the stock of Death Sentence.

“For a certainty.”

~!~

The touchdown onto Milosz was full of energy. Excited and nervous, the whole crew was ready to be someplace Serenity wasn't, if only for a little bit. They were ready to shop, men and women both; creatures comforts were running awful low and the mule's engine was making a very sad poppity-click sound.

“Now, I reckon ya'll got things of your own to do,” Mal stood in front of the bay doors. “I don't know how many times I've walked in to hear half of you talking about new clothes, but, I got a list for each of ya. Things as need replacing or fixing.”

“Because a week on Origin wasn't enough?” Kaylee asked.

She'd been right down in things when Mr. U paid for an Origin trip, watching with hawk eyes as mechanics touched her girl and fiddled around with bits. Serenity's insides were shinier than her outsides right now, and most of that gunk was from entering atmo. An entire overhaul all in exchange for one tiny package. No cashey money had come from the job, but considering the bill they'd run up at the shipyard, no one was complaining.

“Nope.” Mal lifted his stack of lists. “Gone over things a bit. Wash, Kaylee, Book, you guys are in charge of pickin' out the new mule.” He barely held back his grin as the two redheads squealed like children. “Our lovely ladies in blue,” he looked over at Inara, Kyra, and River. “Need you to pick out some new dishware. We're running a tiny bit low on plates.”

“She is very sorry,” River spoke softly.

“Not an issue Lil' Bit,” Mal waved it off. “Just make sure you throw the old ones from now on, dong ma?” He continued once River nodded. “Now, you two...” Mal let out a sigh as he looked at his two gunmen. “Gonna regret this...You two, go on and restock our ammo. Runnin' a bit low on our lead collection.”

Mal looked over and Zoe and Simon. “You two, are comin' with me to the gun range. You might be a surgeon Doc, but your aim is yi da tuo da bian.” He handed out his lists and gave them all a look. “Well? Go on!”

~!~

“Jah Yoh!” Mal crowed as he watched the can fall. “Go figure Zoe, he's a surgeon again!”

Zoe smiled along with the boys. Shotguns weren't known for accuracy, but Simon seemed to have talent.

“Gohn shi,” Zoe handed Simon a few more shells. “We can count on you to hold ship now.”

The doctor was blushing bright red at the praise he was receiving. All it had taken was a few mentions of The Zone. Zoe had known it would work, it had worked with Carlton back during the war. Just fall into the mindset one used during surgery. Calm, collected, cool. Just like hitting a dot, using a laser to take out a tumor. When Simon mentioned they used a chemical agent, she asked if you still needed to be exact. You did.

“Like removing a tumor,” Simon laughed out. Shaking and a bit nervous. “It's fun. Not removing tumors, shooting.”

“Feel a mite different about it when there's a person on the other end,” Mal pointed out. “But, keep seein' tumors, won't have no issue.”

~!~

“So...do we want Sunshine Red? Or Ultra Lavender?” Book asked the two behind him.

Kaylee looked at the two paint options before them. They'd found the mule they wanted. Not too many frills, but finally enough room for all of them to have at least a handle to hold onto. They wouldn't have to deal with a steering column sticking whenever you tried to turn right, and the axle wasn't broken. They did spring for a stereo. And a cloth top. Arching over the vehicle, the flexi-steel would keep most attacks from connecting. It was a very slick looking buggy. Streamlined and painted all matte, it had been surprisingly cheap; apparently someone had died in it and now no one wanted the darn thing. All because of a silly heart attack.

“I reckon we should go with Sunshine Red,” Kaylee nodded. “It's more us. All action and passion and whatnot.”

“And blood,” Wash nodded in agreement. “But this is more active blood.”

Book had to smile as he informed the salesman of their choice. It was like taking grandchildren into a candyshop with these two.

~!~

The ladies in blue drifted through the shop. One was very graceful. One was very casual. One was sullen.

“River, I know it's bothersome, but you need to walk like an apprentice, or someone might suspect something.”

“She despises this.” River was holding her veil up between two fingers. “Understands practicality, hiding so much away.” She let it fall. “Too hot. Sticks to her skin when she moves, filmy silk, filmy skin.”

Inavva understood. She'd gone through the same trial in her own time as an apprentice. Test endurance, test will, test grace. Give a man a glimpse of the prize not yet won. Blue. Not for sale. Blue. Fooled the facial scanners. One in Three, Can't Catch Me. Inavva's blue was thrown back over her hair, face shown to the world without care. Agent of the Guild, seeking new souls. Fresh meat to serve and save. Big Sister's attached to a hat. Not for Sale. Not an Agent, agent of the Agent. Covered only her eyes, hair exposed, neck open to the axe swing of yester-century. No Axe swing for her, no betrayal, never.

The girl was enshrouded. Fell like water from the crown of flowers upon her head. Stone flowers crying woven smoke. Impossibility. Proof rest in a halo of divine sin. Fell to her knees and wrapped about her form. Layers of smoke clung to skin, moved with each step, left everything and nothing for view. Was their purpose in hiding the form when the shape and contours were in plain sight? Men around her thought so. Wanted to see the skin, open the present. It was not their Christmas. They were not the little boy she was meant for. Not the one she chose.

Hers would taste of peppermint. With Big Sister's man, seeds in bags that would bloom bright orange and red and yellow as they sat enjoying winter.

“How about this one?” Kyra held up a plate for their view. “Nice and uncivilized.”

Primitive design of the native North Americans of Earth That Was. Filled with sunshine and rivers. Filled with lightening and the hunt.

“Had a code their own,” River titled her head. “Walked through the skies in search of game.”

“Good, because I'm tired of looking at this stuff.”

Big Sister was Big Sister no matter which name she took on.

~!~

“No peppermint?” Jayne asked as he sat at the bar with his crewmate. He wouldn't go so far as to call him brother-in-law Just yet. Not until Kyra had been to see his Ma and there was a missus in front of her name and Jayne Cobb was her mister.

“Nope.” Riddick was looking at his glass through dark goggles. Whiskey courtesy of Jayne.

“Have you tried cinnamon?”

Riddick turned to look at the merc he was sitting beside. A merc. He was drinking with a god damn mercenary. Discussing issues with his old lady just like half the men around them. Except she wasn't his old lady yet. Just his Beautiful. Damn if that wasn't enough for him. Wasn't a man alive or dead who'd believe that. None would even consider the idea that he'd been engaged since he was ten, much less that she had him so thoroughly whipped he was going to change his drinking habits. Made him feel like less than he'd been before. Weak, dependent.

“Hard to get cinnamon schnapps in most places.”

Jayne shrugged and topped the man's glass off. “Well, sailin' 'long with us, might end up finding somethin' better than this candy cane flavored go shi. 'Spect Riv to drink somethin' like this, supposin of course she liked it.”

From the sound of Kyra's story a few nights ago, Riv had a thing for dark red wine that tasted like fruit. Core bred's certainly had a funny way about them. It made Jayne think. Out of the core bred folk he'd met, and he'd met his fair share, about 2 in 7 seemed to be fairly alright folk. He'd only trust 1 in 500 to stand behind him with a gun though. Possibly less, depending on the number of people he continued to meet from the core. Statistics might go up or down. Jayne was getting to be an alright hand at numbers so long as he wasn't bein' pushed or shouted at. Kyra was mighty helpful with the numbers game.

“Supposin',” Riddick agreed with a grin. Cinnamon really wasn't so bad a flavor. Had it's bite, but it made his blood burn. Cinnamon that is. Not the alcohol, that tended to cool him down, slow his world a bit, dull the extra senses he had. Cinnamon made him hunt. Made him seek a willing woman. He wasn't going near cinnamon until...

“I'm fucking whipped.” What a bizarre realization. “Wo cao.”

Jayne turned to look at Riddick once more. “Happens to the best of us.” He lifted his glass. “To the fine young ladies who decided to turn us from yu bun duh go neong yung duh, into lucky wong ba duhn!”

Riddick clinked his glass against Jayne's, grinning the long while.

~!~!~

Mal watched as his crew stumbled back into the cargo hold, excluding of course those who'd rode in on the new mule. Made him remember Sunday mornings on Shadow, when the whole family would pile into the buggy and head to church. He didn't even throw a fit when his ladies and boys ignored him in favor of admiring the new contraption. Hell, Mal was sitting in the passenger seat, right up front with a boot on the dash. A mighty fine choice they'd made, in color and model, and in finding the cheap one. That was something Mal was very keen about.

About as keen as the way Inara was dressed.

“So, we finally have something presentable to go out in.” Inara smiled up at him. “And here we picked out the uncivilized plates.”

“Fact it's a plate makes it civilized enough,” Mal snorted. He watched the two hulking forms of Jayne and Riddick enter. “You boys get everything?”

“And then some,” Jayne answered as his eyes fixed themselves upon the new vehicle. “Shiny.”

“You were running low on stingers,” Riddick clarified.

He didn't walk towards them mule, instead he went straight back to the weapons locker. Mal watched as he put everything away with military precision; he'd been wondering who'd gone in and organized it. He shouldn't have. Riddick was a man trained by those who'd taken River from the sounds of things. Trained and escaped years before they started cutting into folks. Mal only knew that from Jack and Inara, they only knew that from River and she knew because of things her gran and fiance had admitted to her. Knew things some other way too, a way Mal wasn't quite ready to admit to himself as truth.

“Right, now, since we got what we need, I just want to reaffirm a few rules.” Mal sat up straight in the mule and looked over across his crew. “Locking the ship up at 3am planet-wise. Time enough to get yourselves in after last call. Ain't no one got kitchen duty, but you use somethin', you clean it. Same goes for the rest of the chores.” He stepped down from their new transport. “Now, I am going to go and sign up for a hunting trip this weekend if any of you might like to join me.”

~!~

“Surprised you came with doc,” Jayne was chewing on a cigar as they waited for Mal to finish filling out paperwork. Release waivers and whatnot. “Figured you'd be off pickin' out blankets with the girls.”

“Or seeing a movie with Wash.” Riddick was admiring a knife collection on the wall.

“Well, in light of recent developments between yourself and my sister,” Simon sat up straight as he spoke. “Certain requirements must be met.”

Jayne leaned back and watched what was about to play out. Kyra explained what she knew to him, and Riddick connected a few dots earlier that day, but this was giving him a whole other part of the painting.

“Already did that,” Riddick was staring at Simon with what could only be called annoyance.

“And the witness who could verify your actions is missing.”

Jayne was rather enjoying this and when Mal came over with a cup of coffee, he could tell the captain was too.

“As River's last of kin I'm calling Ittelat.”

Jayne and Mal both were fair to certain Riddick was going to punch someone. The doctor pressed on.

“The actions of a boy often quarrel with the mind of an adult.” Simon hadn't flinched when Riddick punched the wall. “I have no doubt of your intentions, nor your ability to protect her. I don't question your morals either, not as often as I could at least.” Jayne and Mal both snorted at that one. “So I want this to go Kim Akkate.”

Riddick gave Simon a look. His brows had raised and while he didn't have a hairline to speak of, Jayne was pretty sure they might have disappeared into it.

“What the hell is that?” Mal asked.

“The way of the ancestors,” Riddick rumbled out. He was starting to smile, just a little bit. “You know what that entails Doc.”

Simon stiffened in his seat before nodding tightly.

“Mind explaining it for the rest of us?” Jayne asked.

“It's an old courting ritual,” Riddick was grinning fully now. “If a man wanted to marry an orphan woman, or a woman who wasn't all there, he had to carry out Kim Akkate. Proved he could make her happy. Food, shelter, warmth, and pleasure.”

“Wuh de ma!” Mal threw his hands up. “Man don't need to hear about his girls being...” he waved his hands as though he were waving away the thoughts Riddick's words had brought up. He turned to face Simon. “Why you bringing this up now?”

“Because our situations have changed. River isn't heading to the ballet and Riddick isn't slated to become a general anymore.” Simon let out a sigh. “We're not who we started as, so we need to asses who we are.”

“Makes sense to me,” Jayne shrugged. One of the workers was approaching them. “If ya think on it, it's actually a bit easier than whatever yer gran momma put him through.”

~

“Husband?”

“Yes my star?” Wash asked.

“Don't you think it's a bit soon to judge pink or blue?”

Wash looked at his wife in pure astonishment. During the Saffron fiasco, Simon had called Zoe in to double check the possibility of a third and forth Washbourne. Wash himself didn't know if he could have taken another false positive. He didn't know if they could take another loss either. When Simon smiled and told them everything was progressing normally, and his beloved wife was going to bring Two little Wash children into the world...

“It is never too soon to think about pink and blue,” Wash put his hands on his hips. “If we get pink and end up with two boys, then we're showing how accepting we are. If we get blue and it's a set of girls, we're showing thm that it's okay to be tough and strong like her mother.”

“Have you considered tan?” An older woman was standing near them, watching as two younger ones to her right fussed over a crib. She was a lovely woman, blonde and feminine with an underlying strength. Her accent was thick, a native of Milosz.

“Tan?” Zoe asked.

“Yes, tan.” She smiled. “When I was preparing for my first child, I didn't know. I didn't want yellow or white, so I thought to myself, what color goes with blue and pink?” The woman turned to face them fully. “I look at all the colors, all of them, and I put pink and blue on each side and I saw that only two colors worked very well.”

“White and tan?” Zoe asked.

“Yes,” the woman nodded. “But I, I do not like white. It is too easy to stain, too bright.” She leaned closer. “It hurts my eyes.”

“Tan could work,” Wash nodded as he looked around at the various objects in the shop. “Tan would work very well in our happy family.” The pilot drew himself up and began to search the shop for tan and brown cribs, safety seats, and playpens.

“Thank you,” Zoe nodded to the woman. “My mister would have been in here all day if you hadn't helped us.” He'd already spent four days looking through every baby shop in the city.

“Is nothing darling,” the blonde waved. The young women from earlier were calling her over. “Ah, now I must go and play grandmother. Good luck to you.”

The blonde walked over to the two younger women and the three of them began to speak in rapid Milo-Russian. Waving and scoffing and laughing as they talked. Her daughter had picked something just bordering on gray. It made Zoe smile. She turned away to go find her mister and reel him in.

~

Kyra nearly dropped the pants she was holding when River let out a string of cruses. Loud and angered, even Inara had looked over at her in surprise. Kaylee looked close to proud at the words that had erupted from River's mouth, and the rest of the shop, well, they could go fuck themselves for all Jack cared.

“Is something wrong?” Kyra asked, moving over to the reader.

“Meddlesome Simon has altered her plans,” River scowled at the selection of tops in front of her. “The beast will avoid her until his den is prepared.” River let out a tiny growl. “Will take months rather than weeks.”

“What's going on?” Kaylee asked.

“Simon...did something, and now Richard isn't going to be sneaking into her bunk, I think?” Jack shrugged slightly at the mechanic. She turned back to River. “Right?” River gave a curt nod. “Okay, so...we work around it.”

River looked over at the two of them as Inara finally joined them. She'd been apologizing for the rash behavior of her new apprentice. All floating grace and elegance, there was a sparkle in her eyes that showed she wasn't altogether upset by River's words.

“Ooh,” Kaylee's eyes lit up. “He can't sneak into your bunk, but nuthin's stopping you from goin' into his, right?”

“A Furyan woman does not sneak,” River scoffed. “Entering before the den is prepared is Ojil Kim, she has been banned.” The teen was getting increasingly frustrated. “Not an issue before Simon opened his mouth.”

“Then don't chase him.” Inara picked up the garment that had fallen from River's hands. “You might not be heading for the guild, but I'm sure I could teach you a few things.”

~!~

“Ricky, I ain't rightly sure that what you did was the smartest thing, but I have to say, it was pretty damn fearless.” Mal was standing next to his gun hand as they watched the lodge staff clean and cure their trophies. Three days spent hunting in the tunnels beneath the surface, just Mal and his boys and a few bottles of nice, cold, vodka.

Mal himself planned on mounting his trophy someplace in the common room, maybe in the mess, possibly in the cargo bay. But Riddick, well, weren't much of a question what he was planning to do with the massive bearskin he'd claimed, and Mal did mean massive. Big enough to cover the floor of the bunk and still have a bit left over. Their guide had tried to pull them away from the monster, a mutated creature that had run into some such chemical or other. Twice as aggressive as what they normally hunted with a whole mess of teeth and claws. Hardly looked like a bear but Riddick had gone in with his knife and a single gun.

“Liked the shade,” Riddick shrugged as he watched. There were three people working on his pelt alone. “Nice and bright.”

“Well, the more they keep washing it, the more it gets a bit of a blue tint.”

“Everything's a shade of gray,” Riddick shrugged. “Has been since I got sent to the slam that first time.”

Mal looked over at the color blind man, wondering what had happened to take the rainbow away from him.

“Ever seen snow at dusk? Before?” Mal asked. Riddick nodded. “Looks a bit like that. Kinda blue.”

Simon came over to them next, wiping his hands on a cloth. Their guide had tripped and broken himself and the good doctor had taken over. Set the bone, sewed the man shut, and of course brought out the shotgun when the scent of blood drew in the predators. Doc had managed to hit a fairly nice sized Tunnel-cat, pretty tawny gold thing. Simon had almost refused it until Mal pointed out that Milosz had an overabundance of predators.

“All taken care of?” Mal asked.

“And a fee collected,” Simon nodded. He was smiling ever so slightly. “Where's Jayne?”

Riddick pointed at the window they were watching. Their merc was inside, helping to clean his own haul. Man certainly liked to get his hands dirty. Wasn't afraid of doing what needed to be done. Ricky wasn't either, though he was more the kind to go in and take a body out. Right up close and dirty, Mal could still see blood under the man's fingernails.

“Aught to go get yourself some new shirts Ricky,” Mal finally nodded. “Can't have my crew running around half naked or otherwise.”

“Didn't know I had that affect on you Dad.”

Mal scowled as the two boys began to snicker and laugh. Right disrespectful they were. He should have brought Doo hunting...except the dog was shivering his hide off whenever the bay door was opened.

~

“What the hell is that?”

Mal looked up from Doo to stare at Jack. Doo was a ridiculously happy boy, rolling on his back as his tail became a weapon of mass destruction. Jack had never seen the animal so happy.

“It's a sweater.” Mal reached over and pretended to grab for Doo's nose. “Keeps shiverin' every time a draft picks up, so I got him a sweater.”

“It's a very cute one,” She grinned. She took a seat at the console, turning the chair so she could watch her dad play with the dog. It wasn't anything fancy, just a black sweater with red cuffs. It matched his collar well enough and considering how often Doo would cuddle up with someone during night cycle, Jack wondered why she didn't see it sooner.

“A real boy,” River hummed as she perched beside Jack.

Jack nodded in agreement as she watched them play together.

“Do you know where Riddick and Jayne are?” she finally asked the man-boy.

“Went off someplace,” Mal answered as the dog tackled him. “They'll be back soon enough.”

Jack turned to look at River for any possible clarification, but the girl was still upset over whatever it was Simon had done. Not to mention Riddick had actually locked the door to his bunk. Jack shrugged it off, watching as Doo bounded away before coming back to Mal. He wanted to play the chase game and Mal was in just the right mood to play with him. As the two of them went away, River flopped into the pilots seat, staring petulantly out the window with arms crossed.

Jack turned to look at her mei-mei. Their shopping trip had proven to be very helpful for River's sanity. It had given her a chance to solidify who she was without the memories of others clinging to her clothes. River had come away with several pairs of shorts and Capri pants. Night clothes all her own and shirts she'd wanted as opposed to what she was given. Choice played an awful big part in how a person turned out. She was wearing a pair of dark indigo capris now, along with a t-shirt bearing a stick figure fox. But even with all the joy River had gained over creating her identity, she was unhappy on ship.

“So, what did Simon do?” Jack raised a hand. “Besides, make things more difficult.”

“Only difficult for the girl.” River slouched lower into the chair. “The way of ancestors, archaic even in the past. The way of tribal peoples of Earth-that-was.”

“And this is bad,” Jack nodded. River shook her head. “Well it's not good, otherwise you'd be happy.”

“It is...” River titled her head and began to think. “It is pushing the Beast to remedy failings. In doing such, she is restricted from making her own choice.”

Jack understood then. This wasn't about the ritual itself, or Riddick going off and doing Allah knows what, it was about River losing her freedom again. Having her choice taken away in a situation where she hadn't had much choice to begin with. Her gran's plan had worked out alright, but Riv had still retained the ability to refuse Riddick at any time. Simon had taken that away. Jack leaned back in her seat. She was back to disliking Simon again. Just when he was getting to be alright.

“They are back.”

River's voice broke into Jack's thoughts. When she looked at the clock, she realized she'd been sitting there thinking for almost an hour and a half.

“Let them come to us,” Jack adjusted her position. She pulled the cortex down in front of her. “You always have a choice River. Even if it's between going along with it, kicking and screaming as they drag you, or sitting and doing nothing.”

River pulled her legs up under her, leaning on the arm of Wash's chair. She'd kicked her shoes off at some point. Jack could understand why, there wasn't much point in walking on your toes if you were sitting. She could also hear Jayne's voice echoing up from the hold, and then the kitchen, until finally he was standing behind her, asking what she'd done with her day. You always had a choice. Jack was choosing to lead her man back to their bunk so she could look through the bag he had in his hands. It was from a clothing store and he had terrible choice in clothing.

~

River watched as Sister and her man left the bridge. Ignoring the man had summoned his attentions, while chasing the man made him run and dodge. Sister had made her man curious by refusing him. The Beast was curious as well. He took Sister's seat, watching River through his goggles until the girl dimmed the bridge lights. She chose to lower the lights; she wanted to see the stars under the ice and stone. He didn't disappoint. The goggles came off and his eyes focused only on her, shades of gray made the world, it was known.

“Got you something.” River tilted her head as he reached into the bag he'd brought in with him. “Malus Domestica.”

He'd brought her an apple. Bright and shining red and green, the smell of it was perfect and River was beyond pleased that he'd found it for her. Plucked from the tree directly, the Beast was tempting Eve. She watched as he pulled his knife from it's home and began to slice it for her.

“She is very pleased.” River accepted the first slice. The feel of the fruit and the sound of the crunch in her mouth was beautiful. “Share with her?”

Her beast grinned and sliced a piece off for himself. A beauty and a beast sharing the gift of God in the shadows. It would always be her choice. The Beast would make sure of it.

~

Mal was escorting Inara through the streets of Milosz, not altogether pleased that he was dressed in part of his monkey suit again, but rather thankful he could finally answer Inara. Retired. She wasn't a Companion anymore, just a graceful lady with a mysterious past that involved high powered rifles and some questionable men. Just like every other woman in the verse. Just like every other woman, she'd come from poor beginnings and made herself stronger, found herself a crew and a ship. Only thing was, she was just now asking to be a part of the crew.

“You sure about this?” Mal asked as she led him through the market. Crystals hung from the cavern ceilings, rainbow light glittering all around them and illuminating the world. Made a body forget they were deep underground.

“I am quite sure Mal.” Inara set a brightly colored scarf to the side. “Being a companion is lovely, glamorous, but there's no real family. I want a family Mal. I want to keep them safe, and if it means taking up arms, I'll do it.”

Mal reminded himself that she wasn't asking him for a tiny family of their own. Even if she had, he didn't doubt she'd be as fierce as any tiger when it came to keeping them safe as well. Hadn't a single doubt in the verse that she'd make a downright wonderful mother. Teach them kids manners and a straight aim, teach his boys how to treat a lady and ensure their girls knew to defend themselves. Not that daddy's pistol wouldn't come out whenever a boy so much as breathed to close to em. A whole family, sailing in the black...

“You do realize that you're likely to become an outlaw.” Mal leaned over to inspect some kind of neck-tie, looked like a pair of shoelaces running through a button. “What we do, doubt your guild is likely to stand behind you, what with you only being a scout now.”

“You'd be surprised,” Inara laughed.

“Well, I suppose I should welcome you on board then Miss Serra.”

~!~

“Jack!”

Kaylee burst into the Serra shuttle, grinning wide as she stuttered to a halt. Kyra hadn't dropped her tea, but she'd come very close to it. The bubbly mechanic was dressed in her most floral dress, a pair of baby pink leggings poking out beneath, and the grin on her face was bright enough to light up the entire shuttle.

“Oh! And Riv and 'Nara and Rick too!” Kaylee let out a breath of relief. “Now I ain't gotta run round the ship to find ya'll.” Kaylee came further into the shuttle, stopping in front of Jack. “Cap'n's takin' us all out to dinner. A Real proper restaurant too instead of a bar!”

“Mal is willing to part with money at a real business?” Inara asked. Her brows had risen ever so slightly.

“That's what he said. Says we're goin' out tonight.”

Sometimes Jack wondered if Kaylee had a crush on Mal. The way she jumped to defend him and his plans at nearly every turn. The way she'd defended his 'choice' in a wife. Every time Jack stopped to seriously consider it though, Simon would come up or walk into the room or his voice would echo through the ship, turning Kaylee into a pile of floral, sunshine covered, mush.

“How fancy is this place we're going?” Jack asked. “I mean, what's he saying we should wear?”

“He didn't say anything about dressing fancy, just said wear somethin' clean.”

~!~

The restaurant was exactly that. Not a pub or a tavern or a bar, not a food stand or some noodle cart, but a genuine sit down and eat with your family at a table restaurant. It must have been a refurbished theatre, because there was a stage and Mal had managed to get his crew a private box overlooking everything. A small band was playing, combining with the sound of other diners and Serenity's own crew. It was nice, just sitting around without the upcoming duty of dishes or cooking or prep work. No worry about burning the protein or sudden hails from incoming ships.

“Alright then, this here's our last night on Milosz,” Mal began to speak from the head of the table. He could see each and every member of his crew from where he sat, including the one hiding away in his first mate. “Now, just so happens I managed to find us two jobs.”

He pretended not to hear the grumbles coming from his crew. They couldn't depend on Mr. Universe for every job they took, turned them into Mr. U's men instead of being free folk.

“First fellow wants us to head on over to Zapotec, deliver some beets. Second man wants us to move something from Zapotec over to his brother's. Says he has another job lined up after if we're up for it.”

Mal looked over his crew, rather pleased by what he saw. Damn pretty bunch of people, newly outfitted and unstressed. New pants for some, decent shirts for others. Future crew had their bassinet waiting in a box and current crew was finally getting their bunks personalized. His ship had finally turned into a real homey type of place and they had to be the prettiest family he ever did see.

“Good,” Mal nodded when everyone agreed that they were set to go. “Want us all on board until takeoff tomorrow morning. After we finish dessert.”

~!~ Notes ~!~

"Wong Ba Duhn" and "Go Neong Yung Duh" both mean "Son of a Bitch", but the second is a little meaner and more vicious. Jayne is basically saying that while they're still assheads, they're not quite so bad now that he and Riddick have the girls.

"Ittelat" – Dothraki/Furyan – to test

Clarification: I noticed that the first section of this chapter reads as though the Serra girls and Riddick are related. They are NOT. They all spent time in the same orphanage, Inara remembers seeing Riddick during her time there and he remembers her and Jack both. I wanted a way to explain his attachment to Jack and Inara and the way Inara simply trusts Riddick.

River wears Burberry. Considering who she is, how she grew up, and the fact that Burberry has been an icon for almost 200 years now, I can see it continuing into the future. If you want to see what I chose, and what Riv wears, go check out their website.

I really miss eating apples myself. I developed something called OAS, oral allergy syndrome, in which over-exposure the certain plants causes an allergic reaction to others. I grew up next to a birch tree = I'm allergic to raw apples. Sucks.

Also! No More Updates until after Finals! On anything! Sorry, but you're all going to have to wait until after Dec 22nd to find out anything about anyone, including the couples on my FF.net account. Good Luck to those of you in the same situation, and Happy Holidays everyone!
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