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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - DRAMA
Where River flirts, Simon suspects, Mal realizes and Wash goes a little crazy.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 2697 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
Disclaimer: Joss owns everything. Fox owns the rest. I own naught. I write fanfic. It's not a very lucrative business. Less so than owning everything, anyway. Don't sue.
Comments: It started out as one little scene, so without further ado, here's part #2 in a much more detailed fic than I expected. Let me know what you think.
Feedback: is muchly appreciated (printed out, drooled over, rolled around naked in) and always answered: email@example.com
River laid her hands on the table, one after the other, deliberately and delicately. Her eyes shone with amusement and challenge. A curve teased the edge of her lips. She leaned forward.
"Ice melts like wine on her tongue."
"The well's gone dry and ice is all that's left."
River threw her head back and laughed in triumph. Standing in the doorway, Zoe allowed herself an amused smile. Her husband sat across from River at the table, eyes also full of laughter and challenge.
"I do believe they're having a meaningful conversation."
Zoe turned to Mal beside her.
"I'm thinking of leaving him in there, Sir, they're starting to make sense to each other."
"Minute you learn how to fly a ship, I'll take you up on that offer." Mal smiled into the Look that she gave him. "How're we doing, Doc?"
"I haven't understood a word they've said in the past two days. I'd say we're either ready or I've succeeded in deliberately manifesting schizophrenic and psychotic tendencies in an otherwise healthy and sane individual."
"That is..." Mal stretched it out. "... not at all comforting to hear."
"It's River I'm worried about." Simon looked at the girl in question. "She's having too much fun with this, I'm not sure she even knows..."
River turned a withering glance in his direction.
"It's not real. False. Pretend. Reality is an illusion, but it can be as fun as free association into patterns of the brain."
Wash let the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile, he shook his head to clear it, make a break back into focus and reality. One quick look of acknowledgement towards and from Zoe before turning back to Simon.
"Turn off the filter that stops you saying what you're thinking." He explained. "Let your brain wander and the words will come."
He shared a secret smile with River, who glowed with pride at her student.
"That's several months of my time down the drain." Zoe gave a wry smile.
"Yeah, well." Mal looked at Simon. "The important question is, will they believe it?"
"There's no reason they shouldn't." He hesitated, looking up at Mal, to Zoe and back again. "If the IDs check out like they should."
River leaned forward again, her face serious and her tone confessional.
"Just tell them they're going to die." She sat back, nodding knowingly. "Men in suits hate that."
A small ripple of nervous laughter ran through the room.
Kaylee pushed hard, her arms shaking with the strain, she could already feel beads of sweat pushing out on her skin. Pain swelled in her shoulders, a burn that threatened to really hurt.
"Four..." She counted, a twinkle rising in her eyes as she looked up. "... hundred."
Jayne laughed down at her. She pouted as he lifted the barbell from her, securing it in the arms of the bench.
"Four." Sitting up, she accepted his hand and felt him pull her whole body up off the bench, rising to her feet. "Okay, you were right. It's harder than it looks."
"You're a girl." Still grinning, Jayne bent down to adjust the weights. "You ain't built to lift heavy weights."
"Zoe's a girl." She pointed out, swatting his shoulder. "I bet ya she could lift it, no problems."
"Zoe ain't a girl." At the sight of Kaylee about to protest, he rushed in to continue. "She's a soldier. Soldiers learn to carry their own weight."
Her mouth fell open.
"And I don't?"
"Aw, hell." Jayne grabbed the towel he kept close by for his workouts, settling himself down on the bench. He'd been half way through a set when she'd come along. "That ain't what I meant an' you know it."
"Yeah," She poked her tongue out at him. "well."
He pointed at the charred wreckage of the mule. It sat there with several parts laid out and bare.
"That thing warmed up or what?"
There was a distinct glare in her eyes as she strode over to check the temperature of the welding iron, but also humor. Jayne knew she wasn't truly mad at him. As he lay back, flexing his arms to warm them into the weights, he heard her give a sudden gasp and then let loose with a string of Chinese obscenities.
"What?" Weights forgotten, he rushed over to her. "What happened?"
She didn't need to answer. He could see the angry, red welt forming on her right wrist as she cradled it with her left hand.
"Ain't nothing." She hissed through clenched teeth. "Give it a minute."
Two stubborn chins set as they looked at each other. He reached out and took the wrist, fingers careful not to touch the burn itself as he studied it. It surprised her, sometimes, that such a big, gruff, unpolished brute like Jayne could be so gentle with the things he cared about, like guns or family.
Jayne knew that look, the widening of her eyes as she tried to hide the water welling in them, the clench of her jaw against the pain and the tremor of her arm.
"Infirmary." One word, she opened her mouth to protest, but he stopped her. "I ain't asking, Kaylee."
"I'm not weak." She insisted, quiet words, insistent.
"I ain't neither." He knew better than to look into the large, puppy dog eyes she was throwing his way. "And I'll pick you up and carry you, if'n you don't have enough brains to get that seen to."
She tried to stare him down, but her wrist really was beginning to hurt and she ended up looking away first.
"Fine." Petulant. "Whatever."
"You ain't really mad." He couldn't resist needling her as he followed in her footsteps up the stairs. "You're just tetchy 'cause Mal said you couldn't be the nutter in your plan and go to a core planet."
Kaylee stopped climbing the stairs and took a deliberate step backward.
"Gorram it, woman!"
Jayne hopped on one foot as Kaylee stepped off the other one.
"You having fun there, Husband?"
Zoe came up behind Wash, wrapping her arms around his waist. She buried her face in the back of his neck, pushing into his warmth. He smiled and turned around, covered by her, and kissed the end of her nose.
"She's having so much fun."
"And you're not?" She leaned back, eyes clearly saying that she already knew the answer. "This isn't a game, you know."
"You don't think I know that?"
"I know I'm supposed to give you to the Alliance and sit back while they stick things in your brain."
"I'll be fine."
"Yes." She agreed, but it didn't sound anything like she meant it. "Because River is a comforting example of what Alliance powers can do to someone's brain."
Wash gave a silly grin.
"I'm not any kind of genius you need to be worrying about having medical experiments done on."
"I just don't like it."
Simon looked up from the notebook he was writing in as his infirmary was suddenly awash with noise and bustle. His eyes surveyed the situation and quickly deducted it was Kaylee who needed his attention. First thing he noted was that she was walking by herself, which was a good sign. Second, that she cradled her right wrist. Third, that Jayne followed her in. Fourth, that River hovered behind Jayne, giving the back of his head all manner of glares.
"What happened?" He asked.
"Welding iron." She answered.
He led her to the sink and washed the area before grabbing a standard burns kit. The burn itself covered an area the size of a coin, the skin surrounding it was red and angry, but it would heal just fine. It was not serious. He felt an inch of guilt at his sudden boredom with the case. It wasn't like he wanted truly serious injuries on Serenity, but for the most part his training went to waste.
Jayne stood in the door way, watching the two of them. River stood opposite him, alternatively looking at him and looking in at Kaylee. It made him all kinds of uncomfortable.
"Hey," He said. "Quit it."
Mal walked past them on the way to the cargo hold. He paused, thought for a moment, then double back on them. He looked into the infirmary and then back at Jayne.
"I thought you was watching her?"
"I was." Agreed Jayne. "I was lookin' right at her when the accident happened."
He stressed the word accident. Mal sighed. River turned her glare on him.
"Latin Mal." She hissed.
"Hey now, what?" He looked at the girl and frowned, she frowned back, Mal shifted to Jayne, handed him a folder. "Got a job for ya."
Jayne opened it just enough to see the papers on the inside. He raised his eyebrows in question to Mal and Mal nodded his response.
"Guess I'll get to work, then."
Mal looked at River, who was leaning against the doorway, her hands held onto the metal and she swayed back and forth as she watched him. Sullen. It made him nervous. He walked into the infirmary.
"You alright?" His eyes lingered on the bandage being wound around her wrist.
"Yeah, Captain." Kaylee gave him a small smile. "Ain't nothing, but it hurts like hell."
"Good." He said. "I need you to be well enough to go to the core."
Her eyes shone in excitement for a second, before her face fell.
"Is Wash okay?" She questioned him. "There ain't nothing wrong, is there?"
"Apart from the fact that the doctor an' his sister stole his sanity? Not a might." Mal ignored the look he got from Simon. "Inara just came back, she's rented out a place for a month, for Wash and his wife, completely legal like."
Kaylee silently urged him on.
"Under assumed names, of course. Jayne's got the paperwork for that, he's creating the IDs as we speak." Mal enjoyed stringing her along. "Got ' em jobs. Wash is a pilot, of course, an' his wife has a job as a mechanic."
"I'm his wife?"
"We need someone to run interference between the hospital and us, we'll drop you off and you'll stay at the home and wave us when you can. The job is easy, the guy don't know why you're there, just that you are and can fix machines, it's flexible so that you can spend a lot of time visiting the husband you care so much about."
"I'm going to the core."
"Core!" River stomped her foot. "Rotten from the inside out, looks shiny like an apple, but never was."
"Couldn't agree more." Mal nodded.
It was cold when she woke up, ice like, not on the outside, but sliding through her blood, crawling over her bones. River wanted to be warm, be in warmth, cover herself with it. Cold was not on the outside, neither was the heat.
Her eyes needed no time to adjust to the dark, she slipped her feet onto the floor, careful and silent. Her fingers found her dress, hung neatly over the back of a chair, and she slipped into it like a snake into someone else's skin.
Simon didn't wake, didn't look at her and ask where she was going and really want to know where she had been. He couldn't be her warmth, not anymore, his touch smelled like fear and loss, disappointment and wanting what was already gone. He found her broken and his own failure terrified him. He was as careful with her as he should be.
Colors turned to blue in the night. Auxiliary powers only, shutdown of unnecessary energies, less lights hummed and more dreams came through. She has learned to pick and choose the things she sees sometimes, but when the emotions run too hot she can't control it. Dreams are usually safe. Usually.
In the next room Book is a series of flashes, bright and fast and nothing like an abbey. River wants to delve into them one day, but now is not the time. The shuttles give her a sense of silk, of sliding skin, of burying the past. She tiptoed past them, letting Inara's dreams inter themselves. Jayne dreams of guilt, of a family he won't admit to missing, of the comfort money would bring. Wash and Zoe run through each other's dreams, like dye running through water, spreading and dissolving, inching out and tainting forever. Mal is a wall of regret, of worry, of silky possessiveness.
Kaylee's door beckoned to her. Sunshine and engines, apples and laughter. A flash of something darker, gone too quickly. River laid her hand on the door, whispering to Serenity, the ship gave in to her. It always did. The hatch opened. Her toes curled around the steps, her shoulders stretched as she held the highest rung, bringing her arms up over her head. She enjoyed the lengthening of her body, the pull of her weight, down and up at the same time.
It was dark, but River knew where she wanted to be, to go. She wanted to lift the covers and crawl into Kaylee's heat, the life that hummed, touch the sheen of her hair, breathe in the slightly stale breath that puffed from Kaylee's lips. Her hands were ice, that's what she felt as she laid them on the skin of Kaylee. The heat burned her, but she clung to it.
"Hmm?" Eyes crinkled in sleep. "River, that you, sweetie?"
"Cold." She shivered in emphasis. "Inside not out. Can't sleep, can't be there, can't rest in peace."
Instant reaction as Kaylee woke up, became lucid.
"River, you're freezing!" Kaylee sat up, shuffling the blankets and making room. "Here, snuggle up."
River poured into the bed, easing herself into the blinding pocket of air that began to thaw her out, twisted into arms that came around her. Worry and concern, but a buzz that spread pink over her skin. She felt Kaylee's mouth widen into a yawn, heard the squeak of her uvula flex shut.
"We'll warm you up," Kaylee's voice was already thick and slurred again. "and get you back to bed."
"In bed." River twisted so that she was face to face with Kaylee. "Getting warm."
"Okay." Kaylee's eyes flickered closed, struggled to open again, then fluttered down. "G'night, Mei Mei."
Time breathed with her, River held her breath as she counted the rise and fall of Kaylee's rib cage, monitored the REM movement of her eyelids.
"Not Mei Mei." She insisted to the dark room. "Bao Bei."
She let herself fall deeply into her own dreams.
"I'm sorry." Simon flustered with the ointment. "I usually wake up, I don't know what happened. You could have brought her straight back."
"Nah, Simon." Kaylee smiled in reassurance. "It's all shiny. She didn't disturb much at all."
"You shouldn't have to." His hands wound the dressing a little tighter than he'd wanted to, he eased the pressure. "She's my responsibility."
"She's not a responsibility." She confided, trying to loosen him up. "She's a person."
"She likes you." He paused, sighing, before laying her hand down on the table. Kaylee looked at him sadly, could see the resigned slump of his shoulders. "She told you all those things..."
"It's not what you think."
Simon raised his eyes sharply at her words.
"River likes to talk, is all." She absently began to pick at the new plaster, scratching at the raw skin peeking out of it, but stopped when she saw Simon look pointedly at it, then up at her. "You know, ask questions, learn about stuff."
"Questions?" He heard the tone and knew he was doing it again, yet was somehow unable to stop himself in time. "What could she possibly...?"
Her face hardened and she pulled away from him. His voice tapered out and he was left gaping, face already smoothed in shocked apology.
"No, Kaylee." He rushed in, stepping towards her, but she stepped back. "I didn't mean..."
"Yes, you did." It was becoming uncomfortably familiar to her now, this stone cold resignation to his unintentional, and therefore more hurtful, insults. "You were about to ask what an intelligent, ideal, brilliant, talented and painfully perfect girl like your genius sister could possibly have to learn from someone like me?"
He was miserable under her tirade, but she didn't care, her voice took on a sneer.
"A backward, border planet hick?" She stepped toward him now, bold, letting something loose inside her, free and bitter. "It must really eat you up inside, mustn't it, Simon? That she would confide in someone so gorram common when she wouldn't and couldn't confide in you? Big fancy medical training an' all, and she turns to me."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." He spoke to the floor tiles, unable to look her in the eye. "It's just that I'm her brother, her doctor. She should be able..."
"No, she shouldn't." Kaylee insisted, still angry. "That's your problem right there. You keep expecting her to play a part: patient, sister, genius. You never really let River be just River. Not everything she says has a hidden meaning, stop analyzing it."
"But nothing. Let her ramble and eventually some of it makes sense. You just have to sift through it."
Simon looked at her.
"You're telling me to stop expecting her to make sense and then she'll make sense?"
"Yes." She softened, just a little bit. "You know, she probably can't talk to you anyway."
He gave a puzzled expression.
"She asks me about things like men and sex and stuff, you know?"
"You talk about sex with my sister?"
"She's growing up." Kaylee was pretty sure Simon should know this already. "She's curious, like anyone would be with the amount of hormones she probably has running through her. I can't imagine that whatever they did to her, they had many co-ed mixers and date opportunities."
"But..." Simon paused. "What kinds of questions? She was studying my medical text books by the age of ten. Surely she knows all there is to know?"
"Knowing where the parts go is different to knowing how it feels, what it's like when a boy kisses you." Simon blushed again and Kaylee was surprised to find herself comparing him to the paleness of River. "She never had anyone to ask before, like an older sister or..."
She stopped talking, aware all of a sudden that River might have had an older brother to ask and giggle with, had things been different, and that this was the cause of Simon's anguish.
"Maybe back then, but you're both past that now." He didn't look her in the eye. She waited for a moment, then sighed. "She's too old to be a girl much longer, Simon."
Kaylee turned and walked away, feeling drained and almost sorry for the shattered look she'd left on his face. Maybe she wasn't supposed to be the one to say it, but somebody had to.
He looked at the remains of tending to Kaylee, a used bandage, some swabs, the tube of ointment and he felt a sudden desire to just leave them there on the table, not bother to put them away. To rebel against years of ingrained training to keep everything pristine and neat and orderly.
Footsteps sounded behind him and he expected a voice, just didn't know whose.
"Do you stay awake at night thinking up ways to hurt her?" Mal. Simon turned around. "I may be wrong, but you got a special talent in that area."
He could only nod in answer.
"I don't think it's escaped your notice, but I'll remind you that she's been through enough in the last few days without you speaking your mind without thinking first."
"I didn't mean..."
"I'm just saying that there are nine people on this ship and very few places to avoid anyone if tensions arise. Think before you speak." Mal looked at him, not unkindly. "Is all."
"I try." Simon whispered. "I really do. I'm just not good at talking to girls... to Kaylee."
A wry grin split Mal's face.
"I had noticed. We all noticed. You speak to River normal all the time. Think of Kaylee like your sister."
Simon looked askance at him.
"Or maybe not a sister." Mal shrugged. "Just, try, okay? Kaylee really likes you, surely it ain't too hard to be nice?"
"I can't let..." Simon swallowed, trying to find a way to say it. "She'll die weeping. She's weakness."
"Hey." Mal was serious now, he spoke through clenched teeth, not trusting himself to stay quiet. "Don't you let me hear you say that again and don't you ever let her hear you say it. Kaylee may not be our strongest person, but she ain't weak in any sense of the word."
"Not her. My. Kaylee is a weakness for me." Simon breathed in and tried again. "Early was going to shoot me and I was going to let him. I wouldn't help him find River. But... he told me he had Kaylee bound and threatened to... well... he told me she'd die weeping. I helped him look for River to save Kaylee. He would have hurt her to get to us and not blinked twice about it."
Mal didn't know what to say.
"He knew." Simon continued. "He knew how I felt. As long as River and I are targets, then so is anyone I get close to. I can't put her in danger like that, I can't..."
"It's okay." This was a reasoning Mal could understand.
"I gave up everything to save River, my life, my career, what was left of my family. To keep her safe, make her happy and healthy, I gave everything." Simon looked at the remnants of bandages in his hand and saw a bright smile and brighter eyes, heard laughter. He saw his sister's face smooth out in happiness talking about apples and sunshine, saw the two of them together. Heard them give the exact same answer to a question he hadn't asked. He looked out to the empty space Kaylee had left behind. "And I keep giving."
"Sir?" Zoe's voice found him in the common area, looking over the new IDs with Jayne. "Sir, can you come here?"
He trotted up the stairs, to find her staring, aghast, at River and Wash. Mal looked closely at the two of them, sitting face to face at the dining table. Intense looks of concentration on both their faces. That's when he noticed it.
Wash wasn't moving. River was, however, her voice low and steady, a monotone as she drew a pointed finger back and forth in front of Wash, forward and backward. Mal couldn't hear what she was saying, but it chilled him to the bone.
"Are you going to stop that, or shall I?"
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Sir!" Cold and steel, he heard the worry in her voice. "She's hypnotizing my husband. River. The crazy girl."
"I trust her." He wondered if he'd sounded more believable to her than he did to himself. "Besides, you interrupt them now and you're asking for a whole lot of trouble."
He entered the room quietly, stepping lightly and drawing the door closed as softly as he could. Simon turned to see River sitting upright, wide awake, eyes bright. Her legs swung back and forth on the end of the bed as she looked at him.
"You're not asleep." He said, cursing his obviousness.
"Can't sleep." She said and didn't stop watching him.
Her eyes danced as she sat silently and he was reminded of birthdays past, when she would all but hum with the expectation of gifts, sitting still and muscles twitching like a colt held back from the movement it craved. She was waiting for something, something from him.
"I could give you a pill, something to help you sleep a little?"
Her eyes narrowed slightly at his suggestion, her shoulders drooped in fatigue and her whole body sighed.
"No more drugs, Simon."
"Okay, okay." His eyes were drawn to her bed, sheets perfectly stretched over the mattress, pillow fluffed, blankets folded precisely as she sat on them. It wasn't like her. "You made your bed."
"Wanted to leave it neat." She smiled at him, enticing.
"Leave it...?" Realization hit him quickly. "No, River. You can't go back tonight."
Her face fell and set in a stubborn line.
"You're mad at me. You pushed and you pushed and now you're mad because it's gone." She was getting agitated and he could feel his heart beating faster in fear. "Finder's keepers."
"This isn't a game, River."
Sometimes, he couldn't help it, he wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her until she resembled something akin to sanity and reason, the intelligence he knew was there. He was more than frustrated, with himself, with her, with Kaylee even, and he didn't know why, exactly. The absurdity of his situation floored him, there was nothing in the Universe to prepare him for having to ask his crazy genius sister to stop casually flirting with his almost quasi not quite yet girlfriend. Especially considering he didn't even know if that's what it was, or if River even knew the consequences, or Kaylee herself had realized what was happening.
"You can't just..."
She slapped him. River slapped him. Simon raised his hand to the sting on his cheeks.
"Not playing." She thrust the words out of clenched teeth, her eyes fire hot and struggling to stay coherent. "The words, they tumble. They don't work. I lost them."
Her arms shook as she tried, hands flinging their frustration off like droplets of water.
"They run away, like ice skates!"
"Shh, River." He immediately snapped into soothe mode, cursing himself for pushing her when he knew she was tired and already on edge. "It's okay."
"No, Simon!" She cringed from him, curling into herself as he reached for her. His eyes followed her progress as she covered her head with her arms, drew her legs up on the bed and cuddled herself. "Shattered and hateful. No drugs. No horses. No!"
"River?" He began, but she started to whimper. "I'm sorry."
How many times in a day would he have to apologize to women, he wondered?
"Go away." She looked up at him, voice calm again and the switch jarred him. "I will lie here broken, but you can leave."
Simon knew, he just knew, that when he walked into the common area Mal would be waiting for him, having heard the whole uproar and deduced that it was his fault yet again. That's the way his luck was running. He didn't run into anyone as he passed through and he counted his blessings for that.
The engine room was always something foreign to him, as much time as he'd spent there. It was infused with a soft, humming life that made it glow, earthy and wild. It frightened him a little and made him ache for the cold sterility of his infirmary, a place where he could retain control.
Voices echoed out of the engine room and he recognized Wash and Kaylee, talking about something. Listening closer he heard the word 'triceratops'. Simon gave a small knock on the edge of the door.
"Come in if you're sexy." Wash called, then turned to the door and looked Simon up and down. The man looked nothing like his wife. Either of them. "Or a doctor."
"Hi." He began.
"Simon." The shortness of her greeting was less than he'd hoped for, but probably all that he could expect. "We're nearly finished in here."
"Yup," Wash smiled and stood up, handing some tools back to Kaylee. "we're just going over the details of our marriage."
"He snores." Kaylee stated.
Washed jerked his shoulders in Kaylee's direction.
"She steals the covers."
Simon looked back and forth between them.
"I... I need your help." He could see the stubborn set of her jaw. "It's River."
"Is she okay?" It was instantaneous, the switch to worry. "What's wrong?"
"We were talking and she started to..." He sighed. "We fought. She threw me out."
Wash laughed to himself. Kaylee smiled.
"She threw you out?"
"Yes." Defensive and not getting any better in the face of their obvious amusement. "She slapped me."
Wash laughed harder as he walked out of the room.
"This? I gotta go tell Zoe."
"So." Kaylee looked at him. "What can I do?"
"I was wondering, if you don't mind, can I sleep in your bunk?"
"What?" Her eyes grew huge and he could see anger in them. "Simon!"
"No." He rushed in, embarrassed. "I didn't mean WITH you, of course not with you..."
"Oh." She muttered with narrowed eyes. "Of course not."
"I meant," This would be one of those times, Simon thought, that the Captain was talking about when he suggested thinking before speaking. "can you stay with River tonight? She won't let me back in our rooms and she needs someone..."
His words trailed off and the nervousness and misery he projected drew her out of her stubbornness.
Red and sharp, it clouded her, washed over her, smothered her. Voices that wanted to help, but only held her down. They wouldn't listen. They couldn't. She could feel the energies of the room swirl and hiss, echoing the hurt she'd thrown at Simon, the frustration he'd shot her with. Confused big brother, meaning well, but not knowing. She didn't want to hurt him, shouldn't do it, couldn't dream of it, she owed him her life, but he would forgive her anything. A tendril of green, cool and refreshing, wound its way into her red. She gasped and opened her eyes to look for it.
"River?" Kaylee's voice outside the door. "You okay?"
"I'm in a box." She called, then waited.
"Want some company?"
Kaylee opened the door, cautiously, not sure what she'd find. River was sitting on the bed, back against the wall, listless and not moving. She could see the path that tears had tracked onto River's cheeks.
"It's too red in here." River turned anguished eyes on Kaylee. "They'll find me."
"No one's going to find you." Kaylee reassured her. "Not tonight, anyway."
River looked at Kaylee and saw smiling eyes, saw all the things that Kaylee didn't know could find her in the night, vulnerable and open, saw Early who did find her, vulnerable and open, saw all the ways that the smile could be taken from her and hushed up so that people looked away and the government paid for it to continue.
River looked at Kaylee and believed her.
"So." Kaylee shuffled her bundle of clothes onto Simon's bed, she saw River scrutinize them, eyes moving quickly, thoughts processing. She unfurled her fingers, palm upward, revealing two small white tablets. "Simon gave me these for you. He thought you might need help sleeping."
"Thought. Think. Doesn't know." River sighed. "I don't want them, Kaylee."
"No." Kaylee placed them on the bedside table, listening to the clinks as they bounced off each other. "I didn't think you would."
"They stop me." River whispered sadly. "Slow. That's when they come. Memories. Sharp. Can't control. Don't want."
"It's okay." Kaylee rushed in to stem the growing hysteria. "You don't have to."
"Simon is sleeping in my bunk." She gave a coaxing smile. "Simon doesn't need to know."
"I hit him." Admitted River.
"Yeah, well, he'll get over it." Kaylee sat down next to River, nudged her with her shoulder. "Besides, there are times I've wanted to do the same thing."
"He's a boob." Kaylee laughed and River tried to, but couldn't. "But he's Simon. Brother. Savior. Martyr."
"He means well." Kaylee agreed. "And he also knows you didn't mean anything by it."
River took Kaylee's hand, pressed their palms together and laced their fingers. She liked the patterns they made, liked the fact that if she unfocused her eyes the lines between them swam and melted and she couldn't distinguish herself, her own broken parts, from Kaylee.
"Married woman, without a ring."
"It's not like we're really married." Kaylee blushed and didn't know why. "We don't land for a few days yet."
"Don't go." River tightened her grip. "Forget it. Stay on Serenity."
Kaylee pulled her hand out of the grip and touched River's forehead, running fingers into rich, brown hair. River bent her head into the touch, curved into it like a cat.
"I have to." Kaylee said softly. "For you. It's important."
"I know." River nodded sadly. "I knew. Can't change a mind. I had to try."
"The sleeping tablets you can give up, Bao Bei, but not the rest of it, not when you've come so far."
River thrilled to the name, closed her eyes and was content to bask in the buzz she was getting from the other woman.
"Are they so bad, the dreams?"
River's eyes snapped open, she was no longer content to be within her own head.
"Not your dreams." She said and an image made her smile. "Grass and sky and leaves fly by. You had a tree swing."
Kaylee's face broke open in a bright smile.
"I'd nearly forgotten that!"
River shook her head.
"Your dreams didn't. You loved that swing and Oh!" River suddenly gave a mischievous grin. "you were such a flirt there."
Kaylee blushed a deep red and her smile softened.
"Yeah. I really was." She saw River stifle a yawn. "But now it's time for you to try to sleep, or Simon will never forgive me."
She stood up and watched as River melted into a lying position, stretching her limbs out to the end of the bed, resting her head on the pillow and pulling the blanket up. Kaylee turned to look at Simons bed, neat and perfect, sheets tucked in so tight she could probably bounce jacks off them. She wondered how he was going in her bunk, not so neat, not so structured.
"It's cold over there." Came the voice and Kaylee turned to see River watching her with a smile. "But it's warm here."
"Oh, is it now?" She arched her brows. "Why, River Tam, I believe you're flirting."
She had such a pathetic, pleading puppy dog look that Kaylee just had to smile.
"Okay." She agreed and gave her a stern look. "But only 'til you fall asleep."
Rolling onto her back, River smiled at the ceiling, waiting for Kaylee to change. She could live with that addendum, because she knew Kaylee was a heavy sleeper and once sleep came she could stay surrounded in Kaylee's happy dreams, far away from her own with no fear of isolation.
A weight dipped the mattress and River shifted, moved onto her side, back against the wall. Kaylee lay stiffly in the warmth that she had left behind, breathing carefully and lost for words. River didn't care, she threw her arm over Kaylee's shoulder and nestled her face into her neck.
Kaylee felt awkward, too close, too much heat flowing between them, at their hips where they met, through their legs which pressed together, at her shoulder where River's breath blew over her skin. She tried to breathe normally, tried to find a place for her arms that felt comfortable and settled with drawing her arm up to cradle River's head, running her hand down River's hair.
River angled her head upwards and lightly touched her lips to Kaylee's, softness and sizzle, her lips burned. Kaylee gasped, suddenly still and unable to move. They were both intensely aware of their closeness.
Made bold by the lack of protest, she pressed forward again.
"River?" Kaylee whispered. "What are you...?"
"Want." Came the simple reply. "And so do you."
River drew herself up on one elbow, looking straight at Kaylee. Her eyes burned deep and Kaylee found herself blushing. She couldn't say River was wrong. Her heart pounded.
"It's okay, Kaylee." River talked as if soothing a child and, Kaylee realized, as a lot of people talked to River. "Nothing will happen. Just a kiss."
"I don't think..." Kaylee closed her eyes and then opened them again. "River, do you know what you're doing?"
"Mine is a world of nine." She lifted a hand and placed a finger on Kaylee's forehead, letting it linger, watching it slip under a strand of hair. "Small and limited. Mal is a wall. Inara is regret. Jayne is anger. Zoe and Wash are each other. The preacher is secrets. Simon is my blood."
Kaylee felt her heart sink and she couldn't keep her eyes open.
"And I'm the only one left?"
Fingers closed on her cheek, drew patterns down her neck, Kaylee felt a face hover very close to her own. A shiver ran through her, dark disappointment.
"No Bao Bei." River's breath whispered onto her lips. "You're peace. Green in red. Tether. Hold me down. Make me free. My first choice."
As Kaylee opened her eyes, River leaned in again. Their lips met and softness sparked between them, Kaylee hooked her fingers into the curve of River's jawbone, drawing her closer, feeling the plushness of her lips.
Long after River fell asleep, nestled against her, Kaylee stared up at the ceiling.
They played jacks in a corner of the cargo bay, comfortable in the bustle around them. Jayne and Book were lifting weights, Mal and Zoe were shifting cargo in preparation for the next day. If their hands lingered a little too long in passing the ball, or their smiles were a little too shy and warm, no one noticed.
"Hey you two." Mal appeared before them. "I need everyone in the dining room. Got a few things to go over regarding Orpheus tomorrow."
River pulled her legs in under herself and stood up in a single graceful movement. She gave Mal a disgusted look and curled her lip up at him.
"Will you..." She didn't stop to listen as she flounced away and Mal found himself talking to her retreating back. "... stop that?"
Kaylee finished scrambling up.
"Everything ok?" She stuffed the jacks into a pocket of her coveralls. "Nothing's wrong is it?"
"No. Wash just got the final docking orders for tomorrow and I want to make sure you both know what the job is."
And make sure they knew he did, reminding them over and over again that the job was just to get the prescription and the name of a pharmacist who could provide it. That was all, no gorram heroics, no getting noticed, nothing to put themselves in danger. Inara went through the planet expectations, what to do, where and how to do it, the safe places to shop, eat and live a daily life. Jayne and Zoe watched, adding their comments when necessary. Zoe was still hesitant about the plan and wouldn't admit it, but she was more than a little envious of the time they'd spend planet side, with real baths. It irked her a little that she couldn't be the one with Wash, but there wasn't anything she could do about it. Wash and Kaylee were the only ones not associated with Serenity in any of the cortex bulletins.
Serenity would break atmo early in the morning, when Inara would take Kaylee and Wash to the house she'd rented in their assumed names, show them the temporary job she'd arranged for Kaylee and the hospital that Wash would hopefully be treated at, then she'd move on to a client she had booked. The rest of the crew would then fly to a neighboring moon and dock there, there'd be no flying without a pilot or a mechanic. There would be nothing to link Serenity to the couple staying temporarily on planet. After Kaylee waved them that the job was complete, Mal was ready with a contact to approach the doctor that had the meds, even if the heist was investigated there would be nothing to draw unnecessary attention to Wash and Kaylee.
Half way through the planning, Kaylee felt a hand on her shoulder, she bent her head back to see River smiling dreamily down at her, she smiled back and then the hand was gone, River floating away through the rest of the ship. When she looked back at the table, Mal was watching her with a stony expression on his face, she blushed and couldn't meet his eyes.
Simon ran through what was expected of Wash, how Kaylee would tell the doctors he had a history of schizophrenic tendencies, with paranoia, delusions, altered moods and some violent tendencies, that he had been taking medication, but they'd been in space a long time without access to fill their prescription. With any luck, a quick, cursory examination would provide them with what they needed, but more likely would be that the doctors would want to evaluate him and he'd be admitted. He showed them the files he had doctored for their false names, made sure Kaylee was familiar with the details of it so that she could answer questions.
Kaylee lined the cans and packets up on the bench, everything she'd need to create an edible meal. Not delicious, not drool worthy, not full of fresh foods and textures and taste. Dried, reconstituted mulch. It had been a while since they'd restocked and everyone was a little tetchy about it. It was hard work trying to get River to eat food out of cans.
The name was a thrill that went through her, a warm little secret, a kiss. She was giddy with the thought of it, but terrified as well. Not for the first time, she thought about Inara and female clients, the silky glide of skin on skin, how it intrigued and titillated everyone on the ship. She wasn't fool enough to believe they'd get the same reaction, her and River, more likely guilt and blame and recrimination. Women with women were nothing to blink at all the way out here, but River wasn't any woman and Kaylee should know better.
Distracted, she found herself smiling down at the cans, running a finger along the rim of one, around and around. The markings caught her eye, a brand, the ink declaring these foodstuffs brought to the 'Verse by the kindness of the almighty Blue Sun. Blue. The link caused a flash in her brain, an electric spasm that almost hurt.
He looked up from the table, hand pausing on his gun as he did so, the cloth hanging limply.
"You remember when River cut you?"
"Ain't like to forget it, why?"
"What shirt were you wearing?"
"That old Blue Sun one." He took on a thoughtful look. "That reminds me, didn't cost much, but the doc still owes me a shirt."
She met his eyes and showed him the logo on the cans.
"You look better in red."
"Confusion." River sat up straight, at attention, opening her mouth as Simon shined his little torch to look inside, keeping her eyes straight as he shone the torch in them as well, his face hovering close to hers. She was trying, trying so hard, because he wanted it, because he deserved it. "Disappointment. You're sad."
"I'm not sad, Mei Mei." But his voice was lying.
"Because I'm broken." He snapped the torch off and began to write in his clipboard, River's eyes followed his movements, she wished he'd tell her what he saw, what atoms in her throat might hold the key. "Because you wanted to be the one to fix me."
Simon looked up at her, seeing for a moment the sister he knew was in there, putting aside the patient he tried so hard to turn her into at times so that he could continue her treatment without weeping. She was watching him, so tuned to him that he wished he could lie to her and make her feel better, but knew that was impossible. Her legs swung back and forth under the hem of her dress, bare feet making arcs under the exam table, the innocence of it caught in his throat.
"You're frustrated," she continued. "because you didn't know what the horses meant, and you think Kaylee would have."
"I don't..." He bought a hand up to cup her chin. "I wish you could just tell me."
She rolled her neck, her head lolling in his hand and her eyes looked up at him.
"All the king's horses and all the king's men..."
He saw the tears behind her eyes and wished he could cry for her.
"... couldn't put Humpty together again." He finished for her softly. "Oh, Mei Mei..."
But he had no more words.
"It's too bright, Simon, and it's too loud and everyone wants a piece. They want to help, but they keep shattering what's left." River folded into his arms as he wrapped them around her. "Kaylee sees a girl. She sees a River as a River, not as droplets, not pieces."
"I know." He whispered. "I know."
"Don't be mad, Simon."
"I'm not mad, River." And suddenly he found he wasn't. "I just want you to be happy."
She bought her hand up and traced an outline on his cheek, she could see her own hand print there, even though it had faded almost instantly the night before. A sting that would fade in her head eventually.
"You're a knight in shining armor. High on a steed." She gave him and saw the corners of his mouth turn up. "Saved me."
"Simon?" They both turned to Kaylee's voice. "Can I talk to you a minute?"
He followed Kaylee out of the infirmary, interested in the urgent secrecy in her voice and at the same time a little annoyed at the interruption. She thrust a food can in his hand and he glanced at it before looking up at her.
"The logo." She said, pointing at it. "Blue Sun. Jayne was wearing his Blue Sun shirt when she slashed him."
A tingle of memory rushed through his brain. River frantically tearing labels off food cans and smashing packets, he and Book trying to calm her down and the fear and anger he felt in her violent trembling at the time.
"They're the ones." He met Kaylee's eyes. "I didn't understand what she said, when she said it. These are the ones that take you, reaching and doing."
They both glanced through the window of the infirmary, at River, who was murmuring words at the ceiling, or possibly counting the tiles, or naming them.
"Blue Sun." Kaylee pointed out. "Blue Hands."
Simon's mouth hung open as he kept looking down at the can in his hands, at his sister, at Kaylee in front of him.
"What...?" He was suddenly lost again, turned upside down. It was simple, too simple. Why hadn't he seen it? She'd been trying to tell him for so long. "I... what?"
"There's not much we can do right now." Kaylee looked sad. "It's not like we can go raging into the Blue Sun corporation and it's not like we can stop buying this stuff, we live on it."
Simon knew she was right, but he suspected they'd all have a little trouble swallowing the canned food from here on out.
"One more thing." Kaylee laid a hand on his arm, soft and supporting. Her eyes were kind and he had a sudden flash that he wouldn't like whatever she had to say. "I want you to stop the sleeping pills."
"She doesn't like them, they make her lose control."
"Kaylee." He was exhausted and beginning to get a little frustrated again. "I know you mean well, but I give them to her for a reason. You don't... you're not there when she wakes up screaming, when she can barely breathe because of the terror."
"No more, Simon." Kaylee stared him down. "I mean it. She can sleep in my bunk if you don't want to deal with it, but she doesn't want them and she can't say no to you."
He had to stifle his response to that and take a breath to keep his voice low and steady. It confused him, five minutes ago he had all but given his blessing to River and now, in front of Kaylee, who he truly believed he held no grudges against, all his tension had returned.
"That's easy for you to say." Cold and professional, he became the doctor again, his only defense. "You're leaving tomorrow. You're creating a pattern for her that will be taken away. Have you even considered what that's going to do to her?"
By the look on her face, Simon knew she hadn't. A cruel streak inside him made him continue.
"There will be long periods of time when we have no contact with you and no way of knowing if you're okay. You're walking into the world of the very people who made her like his. She's going to worry, she's going to feel all our worries on top of that and she won't be able to stop it or control it."
"We're doing it for her." Kaylee managed to whisper. "For her, Simon."
"I know and I appreciate it." He backed down, suddenly aware that she was close to tears and he may have pushed too hard. "As long as she's okay, I'll lay off the extra medication. But make no mistake, Kaylee, if she can't handle it, if it's too much for her, I won't hesitate in giving her the sleeping tablets or stronger."
"Thank you, Simon."
He turned back to the infirmary and found River glaring at him.
Wash knew Zoe's mood wasn't his fault, not directly, her curt sentences and quick temper were signs of her worry. He knew it and couldn't really blame her. Now that the time had come, he was more than a little terrified himself.
"Is it too hard to check your pockets before you put your clothes in the laundry?" She grumbled at him. "I'm not asking for the world here."
He walked over to her, putting his arm around her waist and rubbing circles in the small of her back as he drew her to him.
"I love you, too."
Emotions flooded her and she couldn't resist the softening, melting into his touch, she felt the smile on the corners of her mouth.
"Yes. And if you get yourself killed, I will be angry."
"Inconsolable." He corrected as he kissed her cheek, her forehead. "A quivering wreck."
"On a rampage. Out for blood." She let him soothe away her tightness, loved that he tended to her as if she were a precious thing. "I will leave them bloody."
"There'll be rending of hair." He kissed the end of her nose, ran his hands down her face, neck and shoulders. "Weeping. Sobbing."
"Be careful, please?" She whispered before kissing him back.
River walked the halls, fingers trailing on the metal, she shivered as she passed Wash and Zoe's bunk. It rolled over her like a wave, passion, anger, fear, desperate love. Clinging, gasped breaths, a moan, faster, keep up, keep you with me, hold you under my skin, need you, feel me, breathe me.
It made her stumble.
Goosebumps rising, she slipped into Kaylee's bunk, down the ladder and leaned, panting hard, against the wall.
"River!" Kaylee was already on her feet. "Are you ok?"
"Emotions." She whispered. "Ocean emotions. Wash and Zoe."
"Ah." An understanding smile came over Kaylee's face. "Get the full brunt of it, did ya?"
River swallowed and nodded.
"Yeah, I walked in on 'em, once, in the bridge." She chuckled. "It was bracing."
Her breath was taken from her again. River was stunned, her mouth parting in disbelief. Kaylee had taken her experience and equated it with one of her own without blinking, made it normal. Made her whole again. It overwhelmed her.
She trembled and Kaylee was there in seconds, wrapping her into her arms.
"Oh, Sweetie, no." She didn't know what had caused it, didn't know how to fix it, Kaylee settled for humor. "What? The thought of a married couple isn't that gross."
It worked, she felt River give a choked little giggle into her shoulder. Relief flooded her veins. Simon wasn't far off the mark, Kaylee had never really faced a bad episode and she was in no rush to change that.
"Not gross." River corrected, lifting Kaylee's hand and placing it on her chest, above the raging chasm of her heart. "Exciting."
Kaylee felt the rapid beat under the pads of her fingertips.
Their eyes met and Kaylee felt a tingle run through her. There was very little room for mistake in figuring out the look in River's eyes. Images invaded her head, Simon drunk, men she'd been with, Inara and the Councilor, Mal.
"No." River took Kaylee's head in her hands. "Don't bring them here. Just us."
"Well, Genius." Kaylee smiled. "That's the most intelligent thing you've said all day."
She pulled River in for a kiss, feeling her lips part under her mouth. River's hands flowed down from the side of her face to Kaylee's shoulders and down to her waist. Kaylee gasped as she felt River pull her in, hip to hip, hard.
"Let me." River said. "My hands don't know."
Kaylee stood, compliant, as River ran her hands up Kaylee's arms, over her fingers, stretching the webs between them, behind her shoulders and over the knobs of her spine, down to the small of her back, around the swells of her hips to the tops of her thighs and over the roundness of her belly.
She bit her lip, not wanting to intrude on the look of intense concentration River had assumed. Kaylee wasn't sure how long she could stay still if River continued exploring, if her hands rose under her shirt and it seemed very likely that that was what she had planned.
"Too many layers." River agreed.
River felt the rumble of Kaylee's laugh as she lifted her arms obediently, allowing River to lift her shirt and toss it aside. Body shapes differ, River thought, watching the fullness of Kaylee appear before her, comparing it to her own sleek petite frame. Curiously, she watched the pink skin of her aureoles pucker and become taut, reaching out to touch one. It made Kaylee shiver.
"You're a tease, River Tam."
River smiled and laid her hand flat on Kaylee's breast, she leaned in experimentally and kissed Kaylee on the mouth, on the cheek, along her jawline. Kaylee was a writhing mass of energy and River felt the buzz flicker between them, hot and loud, it was a growing crescendo and she wanted it to get so large and so forceful that it drove everything out of her head. She wanted to feel nothing but herself, be no one but herself.
Growling slightly, Kaylee could stand it no longer and raised her hands to River's waist, small and delicate, she ran them up the sides of her breasts and felt a sigh shudder out of the girl. She flattened her hands on River's back, between her shoulders, feeling the hard knot at the top of her spine, pressing her closer, she closed her own lips over River's neck.
River gasped, shocked and trembling, she felt herself being pulled out of that one spot, all her nerves drawn through her skin to Kaylee's mouth, the wet sucking, tongue trailing, and everything in her anchored down by the arms around her. She wanted to touch, to learn, to be touched. Kaylee's hands began to bunch her dress, fists at her back, the cloth rising, she lifted her arms, eyes watching Kaylee, and dipped out of the material, feeling cold air on her skin.
They looked at each other for a moment, breathing, eyes wide, then they were touching again. Hands on skin, running, smoothing, friction, heat. Mouths collecting tastes from other mouths, shoulders, salt and soap. River's hand strayed low on Kaylee's belly and suddenly her body recoiled.
Her hand pressed flat against the scar and she saw the images from Kaylee's head. Pain and confusion, blinding heat searing her abdomen, voices, shouting and angry. River gasped to see Simon, wanted to shout at him for not helping Kaylee straight away, she suddenly realized what Simon was bargaining for. The swirling loss of consciousness, around and around, waking up with more confusion. The Captain. A girl on the bed across from her, small and fragile.
River smiled in wonder.
"You called me a beauty."
Kaylee smiled back.
"What choice did I have?"
Mal and Inara walked to her shuttle, ready to make the final checks. Wash was giving Zoe last minute flying instructions and Kaylee was checking the engine for the billionth time that morning.
They passed the common room to find Jayne, Book and Simon playing a game of cards and River in the corner next to a table turned on it's side. She was pouring a glass of water down the length of the surface, watching the small trickle as it ran down.
"River, what are you doing?" Mal turned to Simon. "Doc? What's your sister doing?"
River turned and smiled dreamily.
"Rivers flow." She explained and turned back. "Rivers flow."
The muscles in Mal's cheek twitched. He felt Inara's hand on his arm.
"Yeah well, ain't that nice?" He managed tightly. "Doc, you see that's the last glass she gets. We ain't docked safely yet and until we do there's not much water in the tank to be throwing it on the floor."
He turned and headed back for the engine room.
"Mal." Inara followed him. "Don't..."
Simon watched them leave, confused, then turned back to see River lift her hand and touch the trickle, the water pooling and running over her fingers. She smiled and laughed.
"Kaylee flows too." She whispered.
Simon dropped his cards.
"Kaylee!" His voice carried through the ship and he didn't care. "Kaylee!"
"Mal, wait." Inara pleaded with him, but he didn't stop to listen. "You can't just..."
They reached the hallway in time to see Kaylee sticking her head around the door. She saw them heading towards her and began to smile, until she saw Mal's face.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, girl?"
"What?" His face was red and it scared Kaylee. "I'm just checking the eng..."
"Don't play innocent with me, Kaylee."
She knitted her brow in confusion and looked at Inara for answers. What she got was Inara mouthing the name River at her. Kaylee couldn't stop herself blushing, she looked to the floor and took a step back.
"Yes. Oh." He glared. "Exactly what do you think you're doing? And don't even try to smile at me. It won't work. I know what I just saw and that girl is glowing! I know what that means."
"But she's happy." Kaylee breathed in and looked at them. "And so am I."
"This is a world of hurt waiting to happen." Mal clenched and unclenched his hands. "Nobody on this ship can afford complications, Kaylee, least of all the doc and his sis."
"They're both grown women." Inara pointed out, softly. "And it's been happening for a while, you can't just stop it now."
"River may be of age, but that don't make her grown." Mal turned on Inara. "What do you mean a while?"
Inara just rolled her eyes at him. She folded her arms and looked pointedly at the engine room behind Kaylee. Mal turned and glanced at the empty room and he was about to give Inara a puzzled glance when he suddenly stopped. He had just realized that this was the first time since the big revelation that Kaylee had been comfortably alone anywhere on Serenity outside of her own bunk. He sighed and looked away and Inara smiled to herself. It had worked, he had calmed down a little bit.
"I just don't want to see anyone on my crew get hurt unnecessarily."
"I ain't gonna hurt her!" Kaylee was offended. "How can you...?"
"She's not the only one that can get hurt." So many things he wanted her to see that Mal didn't even know where to start. "There are things about that girl that nobody knows and she might be dangerous. She's a wanted fugitive. Wanted by a government that will and have killed to get to her."
"I know all that." Kaylee was calm and this time she met Mal's eyes. "She ain't gonna hurt me, either."
"Do you really think this is a good idea?" It's not like he really needed to wait for her answer, Mal was not surprised when she nodded. "Well, I've told you my thoughts. I don't like it, but I can't stop you. I hope it goes well. I don't like being the one to say I told you so..."
"Yes you do." Inara interrupted, smiling. "You love it."
"Well, yes I do." He admitted, trying not to smile himself. "But not to my crew. You be careful, Kaylee. I don't want you putting any of this crew in danger and that means yourself. Agreed?"
Kaylee smiled in relieved agreement.
"Sheh sheh, Captain."
End, Part Two.
Sunday, August 07, 2005 6:31 PM
Monday, August 08, 2005 2:17 AM
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