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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

Serenity/Firefly fic: We'll Go Home (And Start Again) (2/2)

December 6th, 2016 (08:37 pm)
apathetic

feeling: apathetic

Notes in Part One





-o-


River remembers the moment she was born.


River remembers the moment her brother died.


River.


Remembers.


-o-


It was her turn to save his life.


The trick, no matter which way it goes, is learning when to stop.


River’s not ready.


-o-


(Stop, stop, stop.)


-o-


River presses herself against the glass, forgetting a moment that it’s there, that it’s solid, that she’s solid. The intensity of sensation is so overwhelming that for a moment, all she sees is the emptiness where Simon is supposed to be in her mind.


Breathing is a wrenching, horrible thing, and the burst of oxygen to her brain anchors her, and she sees beyond the glass.


Doctors, nurses, equipment.


Simon laying flat on the table.


Only it’s not Simon anymore.


Simon’s gone.


He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.


She spreads her fingers on the glass, and her heart beats with cruel regularity. It feels like a knife to the chest with every contraction.


Somewhere, someone screams.


It’s her, of course.


She screams again in the way she hasn’t in years, not since they sliced into her brain and tried to pull her out.


This time, they’re leaving her alone.


(Their hands are white, rubber and stained with red.)


This time, they’re taking Simon.


A year of psychological torture.


This hurts worse.


She fists her hands against the glass, keening now. The closer she gets, the farther away Simon is, and River’s seen the vast reaches of space and she’s seen the canvas of her own mind, but nothing has ever looked so dark.


(Somewhere, Simon tells her I’m sorry. Somewhere, he tells her how he didn’t want to leave. If this is true, then somewhere he has to still be waiting for her, still waiting to come back.)


The emotion threatens to swallow her, and she feels desperation rising like a tide she can’t fight.


(Wash is saying, “I’m a leaf on the wind.” Book reaches out, fingers fisted around her neck, “Just believe.”)


Simon.


Because she can’t, not without him. This is not sentimentality or creed. This isn’t a choice at all. This is the balance of her universe, because spinning on its own, it wobbles and falls, imploding on impact. But Simon counters her, provides the stability she needs, just enough so she doesn’t fall.


She can’t do this alone.


Exhaling again, she worries she might shrivel up, disappear right here.


Alone.


She’s trembling now, sparking like a live wire. Simon’s body jolts off the table.


(It’s just like going to sleep, Mei-Mei.)


Reflexively, her lungs pull in.


It threatens to break her, worse than before. Because the academy took many things from her but they never took Simon. She won’t recover from this; she won’t.


Her eyes burn and her chest aches.


But she’s not alone.


Inara stands by her side (certain where she stands, if not where she’s going), shoulder to shoulder. Zoe is rigid (she’s not supposed to be up yet, not for another 30 minutes, but Zoe still has enough will to fight), but her stance is unmistakable. Jayne doesn’t need a gun (even if he wants one) to protect them, and Kaylee slips her hand inside hers (Mei-Mei, she thinks, she means). Mal stands at her back (he’s been there all along), as if there’s no place else in the verse he’s supposed to be.


(Wash flies ahead; Book stands behind. They’re there, though.)


Glass shatters.


No one moves.


Love, after all, is a choice.


Sometimes it’s an action; sometimes it’s standing still.


But it’s always a choice.


-o-


(Stop.)


-o-

River closes her eyes.


-o-


It feels like she’s lived an eternity by now.


(“You’ll stay now,” River tells her.


“I know you don’t want to, but you’ll find a reason,” River offers.


“It’s supposed to hurt,” she reminds him.


“Then one more entanglement won’t really matter,” River advises.


“There are many ways to save a life,” she says.)


River understands now.


River’s ready.


-o-


It is an eternity.


River lives it all.


Inara will leave the temple, but not the guild. She’ll live in her shuttle like she never left. She will invite Mal inside one time, and that will be the only time that matters before she walks out of her shuttle and never looks back.


Zoe will give birth in tears, and she will name her daughter Wendy. The baby will be strong, her cry filling the vacuum of space with more noise than anyone could ever understand. Zoe will nurse her in the cockpit, and Wendy’s first toys will be joystick throttles and plastic dinosaurs.


Jayne will kill three men who are looking for River and he’ll take a bullet for Simon. He’ll complain about it the entire time, but when River takes his hand, he won’t resist and his rough fingers will be gentle when he shows her how to clean his weapons and sharpen his blades.


Kaylee will fix every part of Serenity, each more lovingly than the last. The ship comes to life under her touch, and she’ll put Simon together with the same care and precision. She’ll be the first to smile when things are hard, and things will be hard, but Kaylee will never stop smiling.


Mal will keep flying.


Mal will keep them all flying.


(River will flow in and out and with. Love is a choice; so is family.)


Simon will wake up.


Simon will smile again; Simon will live his life, a better life. Simon will stop looking to the past and embrace the future. Simon will be whole.


(River understands.)


Because Simon will wake up.


-o-


My turn.


-o-


River opens her eyes.


-o-


(And start again.)


-o-


The window is gone, fragments standing jaggedly in the frame and a sea of reflective pieces strewn across the floor. Inside the room, doctors are talking and nurses are scuffling. Security is on the way, and the crew pulls in around her without saying a word.


Inara is out of her element. She thinks about the tranquility of the temple, the reassuring rhythm of her life there. Inara misses it, a little, but she also doesn’t miss it at all.


Zoe’s starting to hurt again, which is a good sign. She feels it, burning down her spine. Honestly, it makes her want to die, which is why she’s going to be okay.


Jayne is a son of a bitch still, and he wants to kill every one of the gorram Alliance idiots in this place. He’s not going to, though. He hasn’t thought once about getting paid.


Yet.


Kaylee hates herself for waiting, for always biding her time. She didn’t have to be educated or proper; she just had to be sure of herself. She can’t miss what she never had, even if she does.


Mal’s vision keeps blurring and he lists to the side as he stands. There’s a good chance he wouldn’t win another fight, but that won’t stop him from trying, if needs be.


Needs won’t. The assassin has had enough of killing. He’ll stop security personnel and walk them away with a disarming smile.


If that doesn’t work, he’s clearly not above killing.


His allegiance, after all, is to the greater good, and that stands six battered people in the med deck.


Seven, maybe, if Simon comes back.


(Eight, too, someday.)


The doctor wonders who is picking up her child from daycare. The nurse wants crab rangoons with dinner. Two decks below, there’s a birthday party going on.


Engines are in need of tuning; bulkhead repairs are 68 percent complete. The aft shielding has been compromised, and a pair of muskrats are currently trying to make a home in the exhaust vent on the port side. She still remembers (she can’t forget) Miranda, and the truth echoes through the halls.


This is ancillary, though. Passing thoughts; vagrant musings. (River is always so distracted.)


Because the thing that matters, the thing that makes this moment matter is that Simon’s heart starts beating.


He takes a breath.


He’s alive.


This time, it’s hard to say if she saved him.


Or if he saved her.


-o-


(Do you want to know the secret? The one her parents knew but never understood? The one that they dance around but never really say?


They save each other, River and Simon Tam.


They save each other.)


-o-


The others are escorted back to bed. Inara is given clean clothes and access to a shower; Zoe is dosed with a comfortable painkiller to settle in for the night. They give Jayne free reign of the cafeteria, and Kaylee tries watching TV. Mal doesn’t want to leave, but he also doesn’t want to say, so River takes him by the hand and squeezes.


“I’m okay,” she tells him. “We’re okay.”


He blinks, a bit dumbfounded. “I know that.”


“Then rest,” she says. “You’ve earned it.”


He watches her, watching him for a long moment before he limps off to bed. She watches him go and thinks how he’s going to need it. Because Mal means bad in Latin, and Mal Reynolds is a contrary man, right down to his name.


He’s the only one who understands you can lose a battle but you still might win the war.


Someday he’ll realize the war’s never over.


Someday he’ll take comfort in that.


But for today, he’ll rest.


-o-


No one comes for River.


They clean up the floor and the surgeons work to finish the surgery. She counts the staples as they go into Simon’s flesh in a neat row along his stomach. As a child, she’d often snuck into his room at night and curled up in bed with him when nightmares struck.


If only she had known.


“The worst nightmares are the ones you can’t wake up from,” she says.


“How do you figure?”


She doesn’t turn; the assassin takes several more steps purposefully behind her. “Anecdotal evidence.”


He’s at her shoulder now, looking at Simon. “That’s not admissible in any court of law and it’s not valid in any logical argumentative style.”


“Doesn’t have to be,” she replies, still not looking at him. One of the nurses is rearranging the wires and tubes that cross over Simon’s body before another pulls up the sheet to cover him. “We all know it’s true.”


“And if I don’t believe in absolute truths?”


“Then this would be easy for you,” she replies. “Then you wouldn’t be walking away.”


He scoffs. “What would you know--”


She looks at him now, full and plain. “A lot of people, they probably think that Miranda was the last secret that I had to get out, the one that was going to destroy me, but they’re wrong,” she says. “Miranda was just the start, for both of us.”


“That still doesn’t prove your point,” he ventures.


“Miranda revealed your world to be false,” she says. “That’s a nightmare you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to understand.”


Notably, he doesn’t disagree.


She turns her eyes back to Simon, still intubated and pale on the table. “Miranda revealed my world to be true,” she continues. “That’s the reality that will always ground me, no matter what.”


He’s silent, and he watches with her while Simon is transferred to a gurney and moved from the room.


“You’re going to spend your life looking for it, but you should know you already found it,” she adds as Simon is wheeled out the door.


She feels his heart again, thump, thump, thump against her chest


“And what is that?” he asks.


“A world without sin,” she says, and a nurse gathers up the bloody tools and incinerates those, too.


“Sin is everywhere,” he replies while the nurse loads the unopened packets into storage containers.


She almost rolls her eyes. The ethical reasoning is a fallacy and tiresome. “Sin is a moralistic concept that can never be quantified beyond its own relativity.”


He shakes his head. “Then how can I--”


She already knows how this conversation will play out.


She picks a better one.


“You can’t eradicate sin; you can only choose something better,” she explains, feeling exasperated. Not even Jayne needs this spelled out this way. “And when enough people choose the right thing, you can change the world.”


He is quiet at that, watching as two technicians start to install an artificial barrier where River destroyed the glass. It blocks the view, but River doesn’t mind anymore. Simon’s alive; Simon’s alive. Simon’s alive.


“That’s why you’ll let us go,” she concludes. “Because this time, you’ll choose love.”


“I didn’t do this for you,” he points out.


“No, but you’ll do it for every person you did kill in the name of a greater good that you don’t trust anymore,” she says.


He inclines his head, just a little. “They’ll chase you, you know.”


“It will drive you crazy when they don’t do the same for you,” she returns, because he’s not telling her something she needs to know. “They meant more to you than you ever did to them. Every relationship you’ve had has been expendable or you destroyed it.”


“Occupational hazard, I suppose,” he muses softly.


It’s regret.


An unusual emotion for a man like this. It takes a certain self possession to do what he does, and he’s molded his entire being to live like this. He’s a true believer in a way that puts Shepherd Book to shame.


Except when he faced the darkness, it all collapsed.


(This is no Shepherd Book.)


No, this is a man who has learned everything but uncertainty. With a smooth smile and gentle words, he’s hiding the fact that he has no idea what to do with himself.


He’s told people that this is a good death so long that he doesn’t even know what it looks like anymore. He’s ashamed to admit he’s scared of facing his own when he knows how honorable it won’t be.


Still, River lets that slide, not because she’s feeling merciful. Because he won’t get it.


“And what about you?” he asks. “Where will you go?”


“I told you already,” she says, because she’s feeling merciful but not indulgent. He’s not worth it; he’ll never be worth it. “I’m going to see my brother.”


In truth, she’s already gone, left him behind. (She sees him, going to a desert to burn the memory away. When that doesn’t work, he’ll try ice to freeze him until he’s too numb to remember. But the ground dies beneath his touch, and people turn away from his presence. He’ll live simple and alone, as if to atone for his wrongs, but the only one he’ll fail to convince is himself. He’ll die alone and guilty, still looking for the reasons he already knows.”


Because River’s seen a world without sin, and it’s not about equivocation or moralizing.


No, it’s a world without him.


It’s a world with them.


River doesn’t say goodbye when she leaves; she doesn’t look back. She’s given him everything she can afford, and it’s more than he deserves.


(He watches her leave, watches the space she left for a long, long time. He watches the empty operating room, watches the disconnected equipment and wonders. He’s looking in the wrong place, though. If he can figure that out, he might be okay, not that it matters much to River.)


There’s nothing behind her she wants to see anyway.


-o-


They give Simon a room, and River pulls up a chair next to his bed without asking. No one stops her.


Simon’s vitals are artificially elevated, and she can feel the oxygen being pumped into his lungs. She can feel the antibiotics attack the diseased cells, waging a nonstop battle beneath Simon’s still, closed eyes. She knows the risks of Simon’s current position, but she refuses to dwell.


The drugs in Simon’s system are heavy, keeping his consciousness deeply submerged. He’s unaware of all this, but River picks up his hand anyway and curls it in her own, cupping it to her lips.


“It’s okay, Simon,” she promises. “It’s okay.”


For her, for him.


(It’s the same thing now.)


This is how River falls asleep.


This is how she stays asleep.


This is how she has no nightmares at all for the first time in five years.


But not the last.


Definitely not the last


-o-


She wakes up in the morning because Inara is brushing her hair. Long, steady strokes, pulling apart the tangles in the hair and calming, repetitive motions. The Alliance clothes are too big and bland, but Inara slips them on and lets herself disappear for now. There’s time enough for the rest.


Zoe is talking to the doctor, discussing how long she needs to take it easy. The doctor gives her materials about what to eat during pregnancy, and she hands over a bottle of standard issue Alliance prenatal vitamins. Zoe takes them, and even manages to say thank you.


Jayne is eating another helping of breakfast, and though he makes a show about being a pig, he doesn’t know where else to go. He woke up at dawn and walked outside, kicking rocks with his feet until the constant supervision of the Alliance guards on patrol was just too much. He’ll eat another helping of eggs, thank you very much.


Kaylee’s in the shower, up and about with more confidence than yesterday. She knows better than to trust the Alliance, but the water pressure and supply of heat is something she won’t take for granted. She’d be on her way to breakfast -- she heard there’s fresh fruit, sometimes -- but she feels like she’s never been this clean before, not ever, not once.


Mal hasn’t gone to bed at all, despite the fact that he’s been confined to the hospital ward for observation. He keeps asking about his ship, and he keeps getting the same answer. There’s no point in pushing -- he knows the Alliance is searching the ship and using his injury as a distraction to not interfere -- but Mal’s just that way. There’s a good chance he would have picked a fight and forced his way out, were it not for the fact that he almost passes out every time he gets himself upright.


No, that’s not it. That’s not it at al.


River wakes up in the morning.


Because Simon woke up first.


-o-


(Across the galaxy, her parents stir in their beds. They have a lot to do today; too much to sleep in. They think it’s important, all of it. And they promised to host a dinner party next week, so there’s no time to lose. The Alliance came, over a year ago, and searched River’s room and tore apart Simon’s. Her parents got rid of everything left over; there’s nothing left. It’s like they have no children at all.


That’s just as well, River knows.


Family is a choice.)


-o-


“River?” Simon asks, at least that’s what he tries to ask. His voice is a mess after the surgery, and it looks visibly painful for him.


River’s own throat aches in response, but she still understands him.


She’ll always understand him.


“It’s okay,” she tells him, scooting closer. “I’m here.”


This is not what is most important -- she knows this -- but it is what he wants to hear -- she knows this better.


He nods his head infinitesimally, but then his eyes widen again. “The others? ...crew?” he asks in halting breaths.


She shushes him, shaking her head. “You were the one we were worried about,” she says. “Just--”


Simon isn’t psychic, though. He’s not a reader, like she is. He doesn’t know they’re physically recovering and mentally reforging themselves. He doesn’t know that Inara is going to stay or that Zoe is going to keep the baby. He doesn’t know that Jayne asked the nurse how Simon was doing, even if he’ll never admit it. He doesn’t know that Kaylee has more will to live now than ever. And there’s no way he could know that Malcolm Reynolds finally won the battle of Serenity, for whatever that’s worth in the end.


(He doesn’t know there’s a trained assassin, ready to walk away without ever really understanding why he lost. He doesn’t know that there is talk throughout the Alliance, talk that’s going to reach a tipping point someday.)


In the absence of this knowledge, Simon tries to act. Face screwed up with concern, he tries to sit up. She knows this is happening, but she’s not quite fast enough to stop him.


(Fight or flight is one of her triggers, and Simon being awake and coherent is too happy; she’s off her game, in her defense.)


She doesn’t need to stop him. He barely makes it a few inches off the pillow when he pulls his stitches. She can feel the pain, ripping through his abdomen and his vision dims as his consciousness fades.


Simon needs his rest, River knows this, but she needs him.


He needs her.


She reaches out, lacing her fingers around his and giving his hand a squeeze. It looks like a gesture of reassurance, but it’s more than that. There’s a reason, after all, that River wrote letters to Simon in code. Because she knew if she let Simon know where she was, he would come for her.


Then, now, always.


Although he’s pale, Simon manages to open his eyes. He’s trembling slightly beneath River’s touch, and he has to force himself to swallow just to gather himself enough to keep his eyes open. He looks at her, and he sees her.


He sees her.


He’s always seen her in a way others haven’t. He’s always understood, more than what she could be, what she was. After he rescued her, it had been hard to sit still under his gaze. Not because she was afraid to fail him -- she could never fail him, not Simon -- but because she couldn’t explain who she was anymore. When he looked at her, he didn’t know what to do. Her helplessness had made him helpless, and he blamed himself for her lack of progress.


(He loved her anyway.)


(He loved her still, even after she killed strangers in a bar. Even after she drove him to the brink of the dark for no reward at all. He still loved her, even when the bullet the doctors took from his stomach had her name on it.)


He understands now, who she is. Not the sister he’d loved; not the woman he’d hoped to see grow up; but her. He sees what they’d done to her, who they’d tried to make her become.


He sees her, and it’s like coming home. Because River, she doesn’t need to be sane or innocent.


She just needs to be his sister.


She rubs her thumb over the back of his hand. “Everyone is being taken care of,” she promises him.


“Zoe’s back--” he croaks.


“--is set and healing,” River reports. “Worse than it looks.”


Simon nods slowly. “Jayne’s arm...”


“He’s had worse,” River says. “He’s deserved worse.”


“A-and Kaylee--”


“No ill effects from the paralytic,” River assures him. “She’ll be ready for sex before you are.”


Simon’s brow deeply furrows. “But -- what?”


“The captain’s okay, too,” River adds hurriedly. “The assassin is taken care of; we have temporary shelter on the Alliance ship with access to the best health care and amenities.”


Simon’s nod is fainter than before. “And...Miranda?”


River pauses here. (She hears the screams.) “The truth goes out across the verse,” she says. “They can’t stop it.”


“And us?” Simon wonders. “Why are we not…?”


“Arrested?” River asks.


(She remembers the feeling of blades in her hands, blood at her feet.)


(They could try.)


“Because the truth won this battle,” River says. “Olly olly oxen free.”


(Hide and seek was the only game he could ever beat her at; he found her, every time.)


Simon shudders, a shiver of pain down his back. “But Wash--”


“You couldn’t have stopped it.”


“And Book--”


“We did everything we could,” she says.


His expression breaks a little, a small sob letting out. “I was supposed to save you, River. I--”


She squeezes his fingers again. “You did--”


He gathers a stunted breath. “But what you did--”


“Was what I had to do.”


There’s a whining noise in the back of his throat as he struggles against the pain. “I know you never wanted to remember that,” he says. “What they did to you -- and you had to use it because of me.”


“It was my choice, Simon,” she says. “Love is a choice.”


“But the psychological effect--”


“--is something I can handle,” she says. “Simon, you found me broken.”


The guilt coursed through him, even stronger than the pain. He paled again.


She closes her fingers tighter still. “But then you put me back together,” she continues, daring to smile. “I’m okay, Simon. Really.”


His eyes are wet now; he really is a boob. “That was you, River,” he says. “That was all you.”


“Well,” she concedes, just a little. “Maybe I’d call it a team effort.”


Words are not normally her weapon of choice, but she wields them well enough for this. It’s not fair, perhaps, to fight a battle she can so clearly win.


The verse isn’t about fair, though.


(Simon’s never been keeping score.)


He sighs, body going a little lax again as he blinks his eyes heavily. He wets his lips, nodding one more time. “All this, all we’ve done,” he reflects. “I don’t even know how to keep going.”


“This time, you don’t have to,” she says, smile widening with a grin. “It’s still my turn, remember?”


He frowns. “River….”


Rolling her eyes, she groans. “You just have to trust me, you doofus.”


“I do trust you,” Simon replies, earnest and honest. Just like Simon. (Her Simon.) “I always have.”


-o-


(It’s a different gift, she realizes, to see someone how they are. River can see infinite possibilities, past and future, but sometimes she misses the things right in front of her. She’s always known her brother loves her (counted on it, relied on it, needed it), but she’s never realized why.


Simon’s not her counterbalance, and she’s not his fulcrum. They’re two spinning suns, balancing each other as they rise in tandem.)


-o-


She stays while he falls asleep, stroking the back of his hand until he realizes he doesn’t need to hold on anymore.


She doesn’t let go, either.


She wants him to understand when he lets go, she’ll hold fast.


Her turn.


-o-


An eternity’s not long enough.


Serenity will fly again with room enough for all of them.


(God grant me.)


-o-


She sits, watching while he sleeps. There are things to do -- a lot of things -- and she knows the rest of the crew, she owes them, too. But she’s not ready to leave Simon yet, not yet. Not while he’s so weak; not while she’s so raw.


In truth, River may never be ready.


She holds Simon’s hand steady.


(River remembers the moment she was born; it’s a lot like this one.)


For him, she’ll always try.