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Title: Spatial Harmonies, 7 / 10
Fandom: Firefly/Serenity
Pairing(s): residual Mal/River; implied Wash/Zoe.
Rating: PG
Word Count: 2, 778
Songs: Gotta Go My Own Way – High School Musical 2; Side by Side -- Harry M. Woods and Gus Kahn (made popular by Kay Starr)
Notes: You have no idea how disgusted I was when I discovered that High School Musical songs fit better than any other ideas I had for this chapter (and one of the next ones). I hope that you can see through it. And that you can use your imagination to think of how River and Mal would sing it INFINITELY better than Zanessa. It might be better if you don't listen to it while reading this. Yeah.




Once the trance ended, River became painfully aware of the nasty mood that Mal was in. Her fault. It was her fault. This whole situation, which seemed to end with everyone dying...it was all her fault. “Mal...” she whispered out.

“Hush,” Mal said, in a voice that was much softer than it should have been, considering his state of mind. “Don’t need to be talking about this.”

“But everyone-”

"We live on the edge," Mal said, through half gritted teeth. "Comes with its own set of risks. This is just one of 'em." He glanced down at her, eyes hard. "Just ‘cause it’s some strange red demon with horns that’s threatening us, don’t mean that it’s any different than last week. Just got to figure out a way t’ get him off the boat is all.”

River mulled this over for a moment, but it wasn't sitting right with her. She'd seen her fair share of death in her life, and too much of it had been at her hands. The blood pooling about her got deeper every time she thought about it, and she couldn't stand the thought of the people she loved, the people she had come to think of as family, raising the level any higher than it already was.

River stopped walking. Surprised by the sudden increase of weight he was pulling, Mal snapped back, coming to a stop in front of her. River was staring at the floor wildly. She had just had an idea. A horrible idea, but possibly the only solution at this point.

“I could go,” she said.

Mal blinked at her in confusion, “With him down t’ Hell? Over my dead body!” Mal paused, “Which I suppose has been suggested...”

“No,” River said, looking up at Mal with a pained expression. “I could go. Leave,” she looked around her absently. “Leave Serenity.”

Mal blinked at her in stunned confusion, then took her arm again, dragging her back towards wherever he was going. The bridge. “No,” he said firmly. “That ain’t an option.”

“It’s the only option,” River said, wrenching her arm from his grasp. “Without the catalyst, there is no reaction.”

“I don’t care about no catalyst, I’m not sending you away just ‘cause some horny devil wants to make you his queen!” Mal said sharply. He paused again. “That didn’t come out right.”

“No choice,” River said quietly, turning away from him. A gentle musical beat beginning to play in the background. “Don’t belong here. Never belonged here. Know that now.”

Mal, listening to the sounds playing in the background, said, “Oh no. A song isn’t going to get you out of this.”

River turned to face him, “Mal...” she sighed, “listen.”

“I gotta say what’s on my mind...
Something about this, doesn’t seem right
these days.
I keep getting in the way
whatever I try, somehow the plan is always rearranged.”


Mal looked like he was going to speak, but River held up a finger and stopped him.

“It’s so hard to say,
but I’ve got to do what’s best, you see.
You’ll be okay...

I’ve got to move on and be who I am!
I just don’t belong here; I hope you understand.
We might find a place in this world someday...
but at least for now...I gotta go my own way.”


River was moving in the directions of the cabins now. Ready to give her a piece of his mind, Mal followed her quickly. “Own way,” he muttered, mildly annoyed that it seemed to work with the song.

“Don’t want to leave it all behind,” River continued.
“But I get my hopes up, and I watch them fall
every time.”


Mal had images of Simon trying medication after medication. There were times when River seemed almost lucid. He’d never really stopped to think about the effect that Simon’s experimenting was having on the girl.

“I know you want me to be brave...
but it’s just too hard to watch it all
slowly fade away!”


She turned around to face Mal, a look of complete resolution on her face.

“I’m leaving today.
I’ve got to do what’s best, you see.
You’ll be okay...

I’ve got to move on and be who I am!
I just don’t belong here; I hope you understand.
We might find a place in this world someday...
but at least for now...
I gotta go my own way.”


Mal couldn’t listen to this anymore. Serenity was more than just a ship to him, and there wasn't a soul who could deny it. The people on it – his crew – he had pledged to support and care for them to the best of his ability from the moment that they stepped onto his ship, because out there in the black all they really had was each other, and it wouldn't do any good if they spent that time tearing each other apart. Looking River in the eye, he gestured around him, “What about us?" his upper lip raising in disgust as he realized he had sung the line. "What about everything we’ve been through.”

River’s eyes flashed, misinterpreting the comment. “What about trust?”

Mal withdrew slightly, “You know I never wanted to hurt you.”

River burst out with, “What about me?!”

Mal sang out weakly, “What am I suppose to do?”

River sighed, putting her hand on his arm gently, “I gotta leave, but...” Mal joined her, “I’ll miss you...”

River pushed away from him, walking towards the cabins again, Mal chipping in at appropriate moments.

“I’ve got to move on and be who I am!
(Mal: Why do you have to go?)
I just don’t belong here,
I hope you understand.
(Mal: Trying to understand...)
We might find a place in this world someday...
but at least for now...”


Mal turned her around to face him, “I want you to stay!”

River pulled away from him, “I gotta go my own way.” She continued walking towards her room. This time, Mal didn’t follow her. “I gotta go my own way.” She kept walking carefully, singing almost to herself. When she reached her room, she looked over her shoulder at Mal. As the music came to a close, she sang the line one more time. “I gotta go...my own way.”

Then, with a quiet sob, River pushed into her room and closed the door.

---

“River is WHAT?!”

Mal had turned, proceeded back to the bridge, and was now relaying the events of the past 10 minutes to Wash and Zoe, both of whom were floored by the news.

“Don’t make me sing it to you,” Mal said sharply, hardly able to believe it himself. “I already explained. She’s saying her goodbyes to the rest of the crew now, and taking the extra shuttle as soon as she can.”

“Forgive me sir,” Zoe said, “but why is she taking the extra shuttle?”

"Forget the shuttle," Wash said, eyebrows up. "I still don't understand why she's leaving in the first place!"

Mal gritted his teeth. "She don't fit in here."

"Forgive me again, sir," Zoe said quietly, "but do any of us?"

Mal glared at her. Out of everyone on his crew, Zoe was the hardest to argue with. "All this arguing should be done with her. I can't speak for her."

"Neither can Simon," Wash said, turning his attention back to the expense of stars in front of him. "That don't stop the two of you from trying."

"Something on your mind, Wash?" Mal said as a challenge.

Wash turned slowly in his chair to face Mal, ready to accept the fight. Zoe reached over gently, placing a hand lightly on his shoulder and catching his attention. He shot a hesitant glance in her direction before it deflated his argument, and with a sigh, her rubbed his hand on the back of his neck and said, in an offhanded way, "This singing. I don't see why it's got everyone in such a fuss. I like it."

"Oh course you do dear," Zoe said, with a small smile curving at the corners of her mouth.

"All I'm saying is that it's doing a good job putting everyone in a cheerful mood," Wash said. "And with the amount of payment we've been seeing lately, everyone could certainly use the cheer."

“I ain’t cheerful,” Mal said firmly. “All this singing’s doing nothing but giving me a rather large headache.”

“Yes sir,” Zoe said, patting Wash’s shoulders gently, “we can all imagine your feelings on the subject.” She gave Wash a small kiss on the cheek. “I’m going to go, see if River needs any help learning how to operate the shuttle. Getting set in.”

“Yeah, tell the genius to stop by before she leaves, say goodbye,” Wash called out to Zoe, who nodded from the doorframe.

“You don’t seem t’ be taking this terribly seriously,” Mal commented.

“Ah, teenaged years,” Wash said with a grin. “I can’t tell you the number of time I was going to take a shuttle and fly away. Never happened.”

“River ain’t you Wash,” Mal said. “Seemed pretty definite to me.”

“When she was singing,” Wash said with a knowing grin. “I tell y’ Mal, it’s just a phase. Everyone goes through it. River’s just...learnin’ to adjust. She’ll figure it out, and she won’t need the extra shuttle to do it.”

“Hope you’re right,” Mal said, peering over Wash’s shoulder into the vast expanse of the universe.

“You know I am,” Wash said with a grin, glancing up at Mal pleasantly.

They stayed like that in companionable silence for a short bit, Mal gazing out into the sky in front of him, and Wash alternating between hitting buttons because he liked the sounds they made, and spinning in his pilot chair. After a moment, Mal noticed Wash grinning at him again, and raised his eyebrows suspiciously.

“What?” he asked.

“This is nice,” Wash said, turning his gaze back out into the black. “You and me...like old times.”

“I seem to recall our 'old times' including a stint where I lost my ear," Mal said, with a strange amount of calmness.

“Nah, I mean before then,” Wash said, “back when you and Zoe used to hold important meetings in here, rather than in the cargo bay. Back when I was included in stuff.”

“Before we started harbouring fugitives,” Mal said wistfully. “Ah, those were the days.”

Wash grinned, “Just travelling along...”

"NO!" Mal shouted, stopping the music with a screeching halt before it even had a chance to begin. "No! I've done enough singing, and put up with enough singing for the day. There is to be no more."

Wash pretended to pout for a moment, and then tried again, “Just travelling along...”

"Wash..." Mal said warningly.

Wash merely grinned more deviously. "Singing a song..."

"I'm warning you..." Mal said, his tone dangerous.

Putting Serenity on auto-pilot with the flip of a switch, Wash stood up, standing high and looking Mal in the eye, his grin firmly in place and no fear of what Mal was going to do to him if he continued, and sang, “Side, by side.”

As the music built up to its main chords, Mal rolled his eyes. Wash reached up, putting an arm around Mal’s shoulder and dragging him to a sit. "Take it Mal!" he said cheerily.

Glaring at him, knowing that Wash had called his bluff, Mal muttered out, "Well, we ain’t got a barrel of money..."

Wash grinned, "We may look ragged and funny!"

Mal raised an eyebrow in amusement at that line, and he and Wash sang together, "But we’ll travel along, singing a song, side...by...side."

"We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow," Mal mused.

"Maybe trouble and sorrow," Wash mused.

"But we’ll travel our road,
sharing our load,
side, by side!”


The music altered, and they moved into the bridge of the song, starting to sway with the beat in spite of themselves, still altering lines, sometimes singing in harmony.

“Through all kinds of weather..." Wash sang. "What if the sky should fall?"

"Should fall?" Mal said with faux horror.

Wash grinned. "Just as long as we’re together
it really doesn’t matter at all!

When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted,
we’ll be the same as we started!
Just travelling along,
singing a song,
side, by side!”


Wash looked like he wanted to sing another verse but Mal cut him off, Wash joining in meekly. “Ohoh, Siiiiiiiiiiide, by-yyy side!”

The music finished off its last few beats. Mal sighed in resigned cheer, and Wash laughed brightly. "See what I mean? The signing's not as bad as everyone seems to think it is. And you and me Mal? What a hit! We're on fire!"

"Not as far off as you think," Mal said in an undertone. He put on a large smile for Wash's benefit, but it didn't reach his eyes and Wash caught the hint, and stopped grinning himself, turning back to the controls somewhat sheepishly. Still keeping the false grin in place, Mal turned sharply causing a small draft and began moving in the direction of who knows where, with one thing on his mind. Jaw set, he murmured out, “This demon is getting off my boat at the next stop.”

---

As she choked back frantic sobs, River's efficient fingers worked to quickly organize the few possessions she had picked up over the past couple of months on Serenity (trying not to think about how if she had picked up fewer, she may not be packing them up now). Every few moments, her fingers would brush over a piece of fabric, her nose would pick up a familiar scent, and she would be unable to hold back the frantic sobs as they wracked through her entire body. She hated this. Leaving Serenity was the last thing she had wanted to ever happen – but at this point, she could see no other options. Yet the sorrow in her heart was overwhelming. Despite what she had sung, River knew she fit in here. Here, among the mismatched patchwork quilt of misfits and ne'er-do-wells, the chaos and the strife. She meshed with this group in a way she had never meshed with any other group in her life. Her past didn't matter so long as she did her part on the ship and kept more or less out of the way, and that meant more to her than anything.

And now, she was being pushed out.

It was her own fault. She, River, had brought destruction down upon them. Cursed them all with a strange Red Demon named Sweet, who forced them to reveal their deepest darkest secrets through song. And now she had to face up to it; leave with the intension of becoming his queen, all in the hope that the demon would follow her, that it wasn’t too late to save her crew. She was doing it for the good of them all.

A small cough from the door of her room caught her attention. She looked up in panic, wiping her eyes fretfully, trying to hide her tears. It was Mal. She sighed weakly, turning her eyes from him and back to the belongings in front of her. Mal didn’t waste time on pleasantries.

“If there was a way...” he said slowly, stepping into the room carefully and standing behind River. “A way to keep you from leaving. A way to make you stay.”

"There are no options," River said, not allowing him to persuade her. "The end result too catastrophic – cannot be allowed to happen."

"I'm not coming looking for a plan, darlin'," Mal said. River turned to face him curiously. There was something hesitant in his tone that caught her attention. Carefully, she allowed herself to open to him. Image flooded into her brain, overwhelming her with confusing notions that she couldn't sort out. People, and feelings merging together with thoughts of demons and monsters resolved themselves into a single picture – a man with bleached blond hair in a leather jacket, with two girls on either side of him, one with red hair, the other blue hair. Death and destruction seemed to surround them like a cloud. They radiated a deeply sexual nature and interest along with a sense of calmness, solitude...and danger. It intrigued her, and terrified her in the same instant. She stood up slowly, her figure reflecting the grace and ease at which her body moved. At the same pace, in the same slow way, she turned around and looked at Mal. Where there had been tears before, there was now a calm peace, a gentle clarity.

“Tell me what to do,” she said quietly.

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