Paradise Has A Thousand Doors
by Tesla


Jayne didn't know about other doors, but as far as he was concerned, the song had it backwards. He may be going to hell a thousand different ways, but paradise was only through a door he couldn't open.

It wasn't until the shepherd was dead, Wash was dead, and the doc and Kaylee started rutting in the engine room, that Jayne realized that he'd lost Mal for good. Not that he'd really had him, of course. But Jayne had always figured, let the captain get over his crush on Inara, let him realize what a go se 'verse it was. Then, Mal'd be ready to turn back to him, like it was before the Companion and the Tams came on board, like it was when Mal first brought him on, as crew.

It wasn't that they'd lost all their friends, and Mr. Universe, and Wash. It was that the shepherd understood Jayne. Understood that Jayne needed someone to dream about, and someone to rut with. Not necessarily the same person, either. Once upon a time, Mal and Jayne spotted each other and played cards together, and Jayne used to muse to himself, back in his bunk, about what a pretty mouth and pretty eyes and hell, pretty everything, Mal had. Got himself off, many a night, thinking about the way Mal's pants fit his ass.

Now, Mal was completely engaged in River.


It wasn't right. River was a kid, not quite right in the head, and she could kill you as you slept! How could Mal want to be around someone who knew what he was gonna say before he said it? Who was too young for sex and too unstable to be anyone's ging ren ?

And Inara, Inara still hadn't figured it out, either. She didn't even realize that Mal had slipped away from them. He would be more River's than even her brother was, especially now that River could talk normal and didn't stab people. Mal had his pilot and damsel-in- distress and comrade all wrapped up in one little girl, and no one but Jayne could see it.

Which left Jayne spotting Zoe as she lifted weights. A warrior woman who would break his nose if he ever tried anything. Hell, he didn't even know why he stayed on this boat. Jayne'd lost the fucking love of his life, before he even knew that Mal was the one.

He looked up, but it was River, gliding through, her skirt floating around her calves, feet bare, on her way to the cockpit, and Mal.

Jayne sighed, and went back to cooking.



Kaylee's head was full of pretty things, sometimes. Dresses that River's mother would have laughed at, perfumes in crystal bottles, pillows with embroideries that weren't hand-made but by a factory. Things that weren't hand-made because you couldn't afford any better, but not expensive enough to be hand-made by an artist. Fresh fruit, already washed and prepared for a buffet, dipped in a sugar glaze that sparkled.

Kaylee thought engines were pretty, too, engines: parts moving easily and efficiently, the exhaust with no trace of radiation or dead cells, the steady hum as the motor turned; clean wires in their plastic coats clicking sweetly into their ports. She loved Serenity and swung gently in the engineer's hammock, dozing and smiling at the sound of the engine room.

In her sleep, she didn't notice River sitting on the floor below her.

River pursed her lips, and whistled. Above her, Kaylee twitched. River clicked her tongue, and whistled again.

Kaylee's boots hit the deck, and she was halfway to the main engine before she heard River's crow of laughter. "Go se! I thought it was the spare coupling!" She brushed at her face, to hide her blush.

"I thought that you'd wake up when she calls," River explained. "So I experimented."

"Well, a good mechanic knows her engine," Kaylee said, reaching for the corded edge of the hammock and sitting down.

"Simon says---" River began, just to see how Kaylee's face changed, became shy and eager at once. She listened, cocking her head. "Captain's coming," she told Kaylee, and then they heard his footsteps on the grating. River made herself small under the hammock, crawling under it as Kaylee stood up.

River listened to the ship as Kaylee and the captain talked about fuel cells. She put her palms flat on the metal deck, the better to listen. "Too much interference to really tell what she's thinking," she whispered. "Too much interference in everything."


Sometimes the tea was too hot to drink and River had to set it aside and wait for it to cool. Then she would start thinking about tea, and tea-leaves, and how the rain must sound on the leaves. Tea plants in neat little rows, undulating up and down the hillside. Tea ceremonies, too; Inara knew tea ceremony and it was one of the things that flowed out of her shuttle, the smell of the tea. Tea in little porcelain cups that were too precious for the crew to hold, porcelain that you could hold up to any light and it would glow. Inara's things were beautiful and she liked to think about them. Some of Inara's thoughts were heavy, heavy chains, winding round and round like the anchor chains of the old ships of Earth-that-was.

Heavy as the Alliance sometimes, granite pebbles built into walls.

The tea would vibrate sometimes, little little waves, and when Inara saw what River was watching, she'd smile like a good Elder Sister and offer to pour River a fresh cup. "Your cups are the most elegant," River said earnestly, and a ripple would go through the others like the ripple in the cup.

"Engine's not---that vibration's not quite right," Kaylee said, and got up from the table, and somehow they were all gone, all doing things, and River watched her cold tea until it stilled.


River woke up at night and walked around, pacing her steps as careful and stately as her mother walked while shopping in the market. Silks shaken out for her inspection, carpets for the Tam feet to walk on, golden lipped glasses for them to drink out of: where were all those pretty things?

And she was on the bridge. "What are you doing up in the middle of the night?" the captain asked, not turning from his reading. He had an old star-guide and was just passing the time looking at it. He didn't seem to mind being interrupted, so River slowly paced forward. She came close enough so that she could see the captain's long eyelashes, longer than hers, longer than anyone's.

"It's always night," she said. "But that's just a perception because the sunlight masks the starlight." She sat down in Wash's seat. "Why do you pretend you're less than you are?" she asked.

"Men who toot their own horns tend to get them taken away from 'em," he said, looking down at his book. Ancient mariner's charts, writings of the first people out in the Black, and the captain had picked one out of a crate of surplus with the hand of a man who appreciated the old learning. She reached a finger towards his face, and he said, still looking down, "I'd appreciate it if you don't poke my eyes out."

"Eyelashes," she said, but he knew already, and closed his eyes for her to touch, just briefly. Then he turned his face away, hiding his smile.

"Girly eyelashes," he said, and then, went very still when she touched his lower lip. He took her hand, careful not to squeeze, and pushed it away.

"I'm a bad, naughty man," he said to her, "but better me than Jayne, I reckon. Don't believe he'd understand it if you'd touch his face. Girls don't usually do that thing out here, River. 'Course, you're always one to experiment. You're gonna get me killed by that brother o'yours."

"Serenity doesn't think you're a naughty man," River said, picking up one of the dinosaurs. "Tyrannosaurus didn't really have these little forelegs but people can't bear to part with the perception."

"Wash'd be the one to debate that," the captain said, his breathing still shallow.

"Why do I disturb you?" River asked, sitting on the cushion and putting her toes on the instrument panel. Ten little piglets, undulating.

"You disturb everyone," he said. "But it's probably the fact that you don't wear drawers."

"That's not it," River scoffed. "It's what bothers Jayne, though."

"You read his mind?" the captain asked.

"No, he told me."

No one laughed like the captain.


River sat cross-legged on the captain's bed, re-assembling his chronometer.

"Now, I thought I locked that door," he said, from the hatch. "What are you fiddling with?"

"You just thought you did," she said, as he swung off the ladder. "And I'm fixing it."

"Weren't broke," the captain said. "Least, I don't think it was."

"Needs to go ping ping, needs to tick tock," she said. "Just like you, hand in the glove and gun in the holster, Malcolm Reynolds."

"Show me," the captain said, sitting at his desk. He held out his hand, and she put it on his palm. "We've had this conversation," he said, rubbing his thumb over the worn brass casing. "Where you don't come into my bunk? Or, anyone's?"

"You've had the conversation with my brother," River said, tucking her feet under her skirts. "Not with me. We're not the same."

The captain tossed the chronometer lightly in his palm. "I know. But he's easier to talk to." He dropped it back on the bed, and turned away to look for something on his crowded desk.


Once, River had listened to them all dropping into sleep. The ship was locked on course, and everyone was tucked into their bunks, exhausted after the breakdown and the hours of cold. It was the first time they had all left him alone with Serenity.

Captain's blood was still on the grating in the hold. Wash's blood was in him, now, and Wash had Zoe in their bunk, snuggled tight. No one was watching the captain, though. "Oh, River, he's all doped up, he'll be out for hours to come," Simon said.

All alone in the infirmary, and the ship didn't know where he really was, because he'd never been so quiet before. The captain was always stamping up and down the stairs or bellowing for quiet or laughing or just walking around, and he even snored when he slept. Never so quiet as he lay in the hospital bed.

"I'm in your sleep, Captain," River whispered, and she was there with him, up on her toes to touch the scar on his forehead.

He frowned in his sleep.

Light touches on his eyelashes and she looked at the lines under his eyes, the shadow of his beard. Simon couldn't explain why men grew beards, or didn't. He shaved every morning, just like their father had. Prickle prickle like little needles on her fingertips.

"I'm not your brother," the captain murmured. "I'm not your dollbaby."

"No, you're my captain."

He smiled.



"Let me go," the captain murmured in his sleep.

"Or let go of me," River said to him. "Similar words but completely different meanings. Language is difficult at times, especially when you speak Mandarin and English with equal disregard for grammar."

The captain opened his eyes. The red pouches under them stood out: he was very tired, she thought.

"River, darlin', you're not supposed to--" the captain sighed, and turned over, his back to her.

River walked around the mattress until she was facing him. "Why did you stop talking?" she asked. "Usually--"

"See?" he asked, his eyes closed. "You ignore me anyway and I'm tired."

River climbed up beside him, patting his head. "Your hair grows in different directions."

"Always has," he said. "Reckon it always will." He set his jaw, not moving as she rubbed his scalp, brushing fingertips through his thick hair.

She peered down into his closed face. "You don't really think you'll go to that special hell, do you? You don't."

"It's a matter of not taking advantage of you, little girl," the captain said, rolling prone so she couldn't touch his belly again, like she did last time before he could stop her.

Instead, River drummed fingertips on his bare back. "I like your scars," she explained. "And you know I could stop you if you frightened me."

He pushed his face into the pillow, but she could hear the curse words in her head.

"I stop me," he said, eventually.


When River finally kissed the captain's closed eyes, she wanted to bite his long eyelashes. It was tempting, very tempting. And he was in another sleep of exhaustion, after being awake almost thirty-six hours in a row.

"Little girl," he whispered. "Don't make me stop you." But she knew he couldn't; he couldn't even take his shirt and boots off, couldn't even pull the blanket down to get into his bed. River curled up at his side, draping his arm over her shoulder, holding his hand. She cradled her head under his chin.

"Mal," she said. "I stop me."

"One day you won't, little girl, one day you'll tell me to stop."

"No, I won't."


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