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14 February 2006 @ 10:45 pm
Title: Between the Idea and the Reality
Author: justskindeep
Author: Cupid!
Rating: Vaguely PG-13ish.
Notes: For lostdreamer56: happy Valentine's Day, Keara! Request was "Mal/River, mild angst throughout the story, and end however the author sees fit." I might have gone a bit more than "mild" with the angst, but I hope you'll still enjoy it.

Based on the balled "Crazy Man Michael" by Fairport Convention (Lyrics | .mp3). Title and cut text from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," which is lovely and should be read by everyone and their crazy prescient sister.

And massively huge thanks to the Goddess for her beta, tips, patience, and wisdom.



Once upon a time, River became Serenity. She's never forgotten that love from everyone inside her, helping her be strong. They all said she had only hijacked the comms, just a clever trick, and she let them think what they needed to. It was a secret for the two of them, Serenity and her. She felt safer onboard, could wake from a nightmare and be comforted by Serenity's sturdy beauty.

And if sometimes she felt like Serenity became River, then it was only fair. River owed her that much, and more.



River wakes up suddenly and alone. She touches the slight dip in the mattress where her bedmate had rested -- cold. And imaginary to boot.

She lies back and wishes.



Mal lands on Shadow, near where his ma's ranch used to be. More honest, Serenity crashed down and the rusty pipe that shot right through her hull just barely missed hitting him, but ain't no one to correct him. He knows he ain't got enough gas to leave atmo again, even if he could find parts on Shadow for repairs, but he ain't planning on leaving.

He sits on the dirt where he thinks his bedroom used to be, and wonders how River's making out.



Simon says it's likely just a form of PTSD that had built up for years and finally just took over, but River knows better. She sees Mal's haunted eyes and hears his guilt in his brief and hurried dreams. She takes to shadowing his steps, righting his mistakes and correcting the course when he directs Serenity towards the wrong planet. Miho and Sekel take to calling her 'captain' when no one else is around. Jayne only tries to take control once, and decides he's better off looking for work elsewhere afterwards. They don't need a merc these days anyway.

River grows even more skillful at manipulating people, making Mal think he's still in charge. She knows Simon is making other plans, and wonders what he'll say when she refuses to leave with him.

One night Mal seems almost normal. He jokes with Miho, teases River, and asks Simon how Kaylee's doing. Simon grows silent and retreats, and River knows they'll be leaving soon.



Mal ain't sure when Jayne and Inara left. He leaves Miho, Sekel, and the majority of his platinum with them on Persephone, and he sets Serenity on a one-way course.

The ship seems too quiet without a crew. Mal wanders through the passenger quarters, stopping at River's room and absently looking through her bags: gauzy dresses and steel-toed boots. He misses River something fierce, and only sometimes wonders where the blood on his clothes came from.



River can't get used to the short blonde locks on top of her head.

"Corn doesn't grow there, Simon. It's not the right soil." She stares at the mirror.

"It's just for a while, meimei. Just to get us settled in Dyton." He appears in the mirror beside her, his own hair dyed red. "At least you don't have to grow a beard too, hmm?"

She smiles and touches a hand to the silvery surface. "Strange garden. Michael won't like it. Gets him too confused."

She sees Simon's confusion but doesn't explain. He wouldn't approve, and she's as grown a girl as she's like to get.



Mal wanders around Serenity like a ghost himself. Some part of him knows that he's got a new crew now, he's taking jobs just as ever, but he ain't entirely sure that's truly him these days. He spends his nights on the bridge, staring at the stars and whispering secrets. He don't give indication that he notices River when she joins him, but she knows.

She always knows.

It ain't as much a surprise as it should be when she reaches to unbuckle his pants.



River knows what she wants, and she knows that Mal's willing to give it. She didn't realize how easy it would be, though, to slide off his pants and tease him to fullness in view of the stars. She wants to pleasure him on her knees, but she isn't sure he'd let her. She straddles his lap, staring into his eyes and pretending she doesn't mind that he makes no move to kiss her.

At some point they move to his bunk, which seems to bring Mal more back to himself than he's been in weeks.

"Well ain't you just full of surprises," he says when he lifts her skirt and finds no underwear. She doesn't tell him that he ripped them off on the bridge, and she welcomes his kisses.

"No one expects it. Sudden and perfect," she tells him, and laughs breathlessly.



It don't set right with Mal, the idea of puttin' them down at Dyton Colony. Kaylee laughs at him, teasing about all the times early on when he was like to throw them to the Feds just for annoyin' him. 'Sides, them fancy new 'do's and River's easy way with the Dyton slang would hide them just fine. No worries, Cap'n. All's shiny.

Sometimes it's hard for Mal to remember that Kaylee is dead. He could swear those words came directly outta her mouth.

He never forgets and tries to talk to Zoe, or Wash, or Book. And when he sees them, he knows them for ghosts.

But not Kaylee ...

"Don't matter anyway, meimei. Ain't like I can stop 'em."

Mal leaves the engine room without waiting for an answer.



She wakes in his bunk. He's gently running a hand through her strange blonde hair. She smiles at him sleepily, sensing a regained balance. She wishes they'd done this sooner.

"You still a reader, bao be?" He asks softly. "You know what's coming?"

"Yes," she whispers. "You'll kill her. Right through the heart, your own true love."

He sits up, stops petting, and stares. She looks back silently.

"You ain't serious."

"You can't change who you are, Mal, and you shouldn't try." She reaches a hand to his face.

"No, now, I ain't no murderer." He's getting angry. "River, I've killed men aplenty, but I ain't no gorram murderer."

"You shouldn't ask the truth when you're afraid of it, Mal." She knows she should be frightened but can't quite manage it. "Mal. Bad. In the Latin."

She sees the mad look come back into his eyes, and wishes she hadn't spoken. As he stands and begins pacing the room, muttering to himself, she wonders if Simon will still go on to Dyton.
lostdreamer56 on February 18th, 2006 02:46 am (UTC)
Wonderful. I love it! Thanks so very much! And I'm okay with "more than mild angst;" it's a wonderful fic, I love the presentation. :) Thanks so much! *hugs*
justskindeep on February 24th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
Oh, I am so glad you liked it. The problems I had with writing this story...! There's another story based on another ballad that is yet unfinished but currently living around the 10 page mark, which was originally supposed to be your gift. Should I ever manage to pull that one together, I'll let you know. But I'm glad this one pleased and did not overly confuse!
themoononastick on February 20th, 2006 11:23 am (UTC)
Wow! This is breathtakingly beautiful and, hauntingly sad, too. Wonderful stuff.
justskindeep on February 24th, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed, and weren't completely lost (which was my biggest worry).