Title: Sleepwalkers
Date Posted: 6 February 2006
Author: Van Donovan
Rating: PG
Characters: Mal, River
Pairing: implied Mal/River
Word count: 732
Warnings: Spoilers for Serenity the movie
Summary: River and Mal sleepwalk.
Notes: Written to fill a requested Mal/River with the prompts: varities of tea, dish-washing or sleepwalking.


“It’s too heavy, too thick, too cloying. The oxygen is getting too thin, and the carbon monoxide is taking over. It’s going to suffocate him. Why doesn’t he open the door? Doesn’t he see?”

Mal pulled his eyes off the stars as River’s frightened voice wafted up to him from the galley. He blinked, aware he’d been staring and lost in thought while looking out into the black. He wasn’t sure how long it had been, but his eyes were dry, and tired. Pushing the pilot’s chair around, he got to his feet and started down the stairs. River was still muttering in the kitchen, and now he could hear the sound of flatware rattling.

“River?” he called as he poked his head into the galley. There was no sign of Simon, but River was there, by herself, opening cupboards and taking out pots and pans. “River,” he called again. She seemed not to hear him. As he approached, he realized her eyes were still closed behind her curtain of hair. “River!” He grabbed her arms, causing the pot she held to clatter to the ground.

He held her firmly, and then gave her a quick shake, to wake her.

Her eyes flew open and stared right into his. There was no disorientation in her eyes when she looked up at him. She just let her mouth curve into an easy, relieved smile. “The air rushes back into his lungs,” she whispered softly. “Makes him a man again.”

He found himself locked on her eyes for a second, held there by an invisible ribbon. Then he released her and stepped back, aware suddenly that he wasn’t quite awake himself. “You were sleepwalking,” he announced.

River rubbed her wrist thoughtfully, but not as though he had hurt her. It seemed like she was sealing his touch in. She gracefully skirted around him, bending to pick up the pot she had dropped. “Maybe we both were,” she replied.

Mal pulled the pot out of her hand and set it in the sink. “You should go back to bed,” he said, but his voice was throatier than he’d intended.

“Should,” she agreed, but she didn’t turn to leave. “Won’t though. Can’t sleep, not right now.”

Mal turned the water on in the sink, filling the pot up with it. “You having bad dreams again? Thought those stopped.” He poured soap into the pot, beginning to wash it.

She studied him casually as he worked. “They aren’t mine,” she stated. Then she looked down at his hands, washing. “It wasn’t dirty.”

“Fell on the floor,” Mal corrected her.

“Fell standing up. Landed on its feet.” She reached into the stream of water and found his hands, pulling them out. “Not dirty.” Her hands pressed into his, closer than necessary. “They’re washed clean, now.”

Mal jerked his hands away from her. “You still frighten me sometimes, girl.”

River sighed her exasperated sigh, and then took on a patient expression. “Go sit,” she commanded. She pointed at the table. “Go.”

Mal obeyed as easily as though she were the captain. He pulled out a chair at the table and sat facing her. His expression was veiled, his eyes riveted on her small frame.

She rinsed the pot free of soap, and then filled it with hot water. “Oolong or ocha?” she questioned softly. Her eyes remained on Mal, and when the pot filled she shut the water off without looking at it.

“Don’t you know?” he questioned.

River gave him a patient smile. “It’s polite to ask.” She lifted the pot and moved it to the stove, turning the heat on. When the tea was made, she carried the steaming cup to him, setting it on the table before him. She leaned against the solid wood beside him, watching him watch the liquid cool.

“This ain’t right,” he finally muttered. “Should be me bringing you tea.”

“I wasn’t sleepwalking,” River whispered.

Mal lifted his haunted eyes to look up at her. “There are better ways to get my attention, Albatross.”

River raised one of her hands up, placing it on his cheek. He was warm, almost too warm, and her fingers were cool and soothing. “You like to protect me,” she carefully replied. She hesitated for a moment, and then gently ran her thumb over his lower lip. “Sometimes, I like to make you think you can.”

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