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Unexpected Perils

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The first thing Mal noticed in the morning -- before he even checked for his gun, or made sure all his equipment was working properly -- no, the very first thing he noticed at all was the crazy girl in his bed.

He jumped away from her and out of the bunk as fast as he could, and for a moment he looked down at her, dumbfounded. Then he found his voice enough to say, "Oooh, sweet Jesus."

River was asleep, curled up sweetly on one side of the small bed. She took a small yawn as he stood there watching, and uncurled a little to take up more of the room he'd left just now.

She was still wearing her undergarments, Mal noticed, which was one good thing in the whole situation. And he wasn't stark naked himself. He still had yesterday's pants on.

The situation was still a whole mess of wrong.

Now, it wasn't as if this was the first time Mal had woken up with a strange woman in his bed and no memory of how either of them had quite gotten there. But there was a difference there, usually those women were a) not quite so young, b) not part of his crew, c) didn't have protective older brothers quite so close and d) weren't completely off their ruttin' rockers.

"Oh, this is not good," Mal muttered, wiping his hand against his forehead.

It seemed that Mal was gonna have to do some thinking. He paced back and forth his small cabin. First thing: there was drinking last night. He glanced back over at the bed.

Make that a *lot* of drinking.

Dammit, there were reasons Mal didn't get involved with people aboard his ship. It muddled things all up. Made them unclear and confusing and, well, all sorts of frustrating. And that was even setting aside the particulars of *this* instance.

There was a small sigh from the direction of the bed, and he turned to see River sitting up and stretching her arms. She swung her feet over to the floor and smiled up at him.

"Good morning, Captain."

"Morning," Mal said, cautiously as he could, like she was going to lunge forward and attack him. He wouldn't put it past her.

She stood up and stretched again. Her slip only came to the tops of her thighs like that, and he jerked his vision away quick.

"Captain?"

River was looking at him curiously.

"I'm thinking this conversation might be a mite more comfortable if you were a little more clothed," Mal said.

River looked down at herself. "My clothes are in my bunk," she said, talking like she was speaking to an idiot child.

"Oh, well then," Mal said. "That explains everything."

She frowned at him solemnly for a moment. "You're worried about our sleeping together."

Mal choked somewhere between a cough and a laugh. "That's about the face of it, yes."

"I was asleep," River said, moving closer to him, all hair and big wide eyes, speaking quick and relentless. "I woke and I was alone. And you were alone, and we both were one, but we were two because we both love the same thing. You were warm and I slept and there weren't any dreams." She stopped to take a breath, and eyed him with some suspicion. "You don't understand."

"I'm afraid I'm not fluent in crazy talk, no," Mal admitted. He was backed up into the wall now. River had followed him step for step. It was surely amazing how frightened he could be of one little girl. How had she gotten into his room without disturbing him, anyway? He'd had enough doublecrosses to be able to wake up at the hint of someone sneaking by. "I don't reckon you know where your brother is?"

"Simon is still sleeping," River said, still frowning worriedly. She reached out to touch Mal's face, a long stroke, and he pulled her hand away gently. "I was all alone, and I didn't want to dream anymore, and I didn't want to be *alone*." She looked almost angry now, and Mal found himself reaching out to her other wrist. "Serenity *wanted* me here," River finished softly, looking up at him like she was just willing him to get it.

It didn't work that way, though, because Mal was still just as lost as ever. "Now, River," he said, firm but gentle, "we can't have you sneaking into bunks at night. You know better than that."

River stared at him for a long moment, then stretched onto her toes and kissed him on the lips. It took him by surprise -- and even after he realized what was going on, it took him another moment, because River might look and act like a crazy girl, but she kissed like a woman.

He broke away, though, and glared at her. "Hey! None of that, now!"

River broke away from his grip sullenly, pulling away to sit on the bed. She brought her knees to her chest and rested her head, letting her hair flow all around and cover her face. "I thought you would understand," she muttered. Mal could barely make it out. "One and one is two. It all makes sense. It all makes *sense*."

Mal stared at her for a minute, feeling a little helpless. Maybe if he went and fetched Kaylee? Or Zoe, Zoe was a woman. She was good at this sort of thing. Knowing what to say and whatnot. As long as it meant Mal could get out of here and not have to see the pretty girl trying to seduce him anymore, he was happy.

River looked up again, a thin white face among all of her hair. "It doesn't have anything to do with the special hell, you know."

"What?"

"I'm alone. It's hard, being alone in your own head. Everybody else -- but you're not, you're alone, too. Just you. And you love Serenity, but Serenity can't make you two." She was crying a little now, he saw. For a moment he was tempted to go over and sit with her, kiss the tears off her eyelids, and that scared him more than everything else together.

"Uh, why don't you just stay there for a minute?" Mal said, backing up carefully towards the exit. River didn't seem to notice, just curling up around herself tighter. Good. Great.

It looked like he was going to have to have another talking-to with Simon Tam about controlling his gorram sister.