Disclaimers: Render unto Joss what is Joss'.
Spoilers: For The Train Robbery.
Summary: The naming of names.
Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Content some readers may find
Author's Note: Happy birthday, Nia! And I blame you for this. And
Deb. And Cassandra, too.
Acknowledgments: Much love to the Spike for late night hand-
Feedback is a booful, booful thing. firstname.lastname@example.org
When she was three, River's mother took her and Simon to Lotus
for An Extended Holiday Among The Savages. That's what she
called it, several times, all in capitals, and that's the way River
When she remembers.
It helps that it's one of the Good Memories, and even though
Simon has never said it, or said it *that* way, he doesn't have to.
It's just... there.
Some things are, now.
Simon whispers the Good Memories to her before she sleeps, and
whenever she wakes to the echoes of her own cries.
"I'm a crow," she'll say, and bat at the shapes she sees, all cruelly
shining eyes and dusty wings. The worst part isn't that Simon
doesn't understand. It's that she knows it isn't his fault.
On Lotus, all of their servants spoke an obscure dialect of
Mandarin that Mother sometimes pretended not to understand.
On Lotus, her nana took her to the banks of the Zhu and showed
her what her name really meant.
She remembers yellow-brown mud squishing between her toes
and the rush-rush-rush of dirty water that coiled like a snake
around her entire world.
She remembers her nana pointing to the water and then to
River's chest and smiling broadly.
"I am vast, I contain multitudes," is what she manages to spit out,
and Simon looks up from sorting bandages to smile at her with
that gentle distance she's come to loathe.
"Been talking to Book, have you?"
She bites her lip, straining for the words, for the... "It was a
And now he looks troubled, which isn't what she wanted at all,
but at least he's with her again. Hand on her hair, pushing strands
back behind her ear. "What was?"
But she can only plead with her eyes.
"... really don't expect this to work, do you, Doctor?"
"Science is not about instant gratification, Matthews. Science is
"Trial and error. Right. I heard you the first fifty-seven times, I
swear. I'm just saying the kid looks a little... peaked."
"Well, that's only to be expected. Still, the balance of nutrient
boosters, amphetamines, tranquilizers, and anti-psychotics we have
her on should hold out for a few more trials. Lower the helmet."
"Whatever you say, Doc. On three -- oh, hell, she's awake. Looks
like your tranqs aren't holding up too well after all, hunh?"
She doesn't always wake screaming.
Or at least... not aloud.
In the dark, the cabin she shares with her brother is a mass of
vague, ill-defined shapes. All the effort she puts in to messing it
up during the day, the work she puts in to combat Simon's
terminal neatness looks grander at three in the morning.
There is nothing sterile here.
She licks her palm and slides it down a wall, just to be sure.
She thinks the ship understands.
On the surface, where it's thin as the scum of ice on the Zhu in
spring, she knows that's the kind of thought she doesn't need to
hold on to anymore. That she *shouldn't* hold on to, now that
she and Simon are safe.
In the rush, where it counts, she makes a mental note to ask
the ship about itself.
Simon sighs in his sleep when she crawls into bed with him,
shifting unconsciously to make a little more room on the
double-bed, to give her some of the warmth he's left behind. River
curls against him, tucking her head under his chin and breathing
his sleep-scent until she has to move to get more air.
"River...?" He's muzzy, voice mussed as everything else. "Bad
There's no real answer to that.
"You'll forgive me for asking stupid questions at..." She feels him
shift to look at his watch. "Three-oh-eight in the morning."
River plucks at his pajamas and does her best to fight back the
sudden wash of impotent rage. Fabric, silence, words, words
words. The beat of wings and pins in her HEAD.
Broad, competent hand on her head. "I wish I could make it
Simon never complains when she cries herself to sleep in his
It's a bad day.
Sometimes she has bad days and doesn't know it, only knows it
when she wakes up, or *wakes* and finds herself staring at a
harried-looking Simon, a smirking-bitter Jayne. Today it's a bad
day and she knows it, but that doesn't mean she knows what to
do about it.
The infirmary is just so rutting *white* and Simon's... the
*tools* were out, all silver bright and gleaming and the tendons
stood out in his hand when he tried to drag her inside, away
from everyone else, away from where the people were, where
all the nice *browns* were, and she was a crow again and she
couldn't help it.
She can't help it.
Simon's drugs aren't strong enough for her, not really, and she
saw the look in his eyes when he spotted the restraints and that
was just --
And now here they are.
The curtains are all drawn, and Simon's at the door, talking
quietly to the captain and holding a bandage to his face where
River scratched him deep enough to draw blood. Here, curled
in on herself in the far corner, she can almost hear them. If
If she strains another way...
Mal is his usual tangle, but he's willing to let himself be soothed
by her brother. And that's what Simon is doing, low-voiced and
calm. So tired on the inside.
Despair like a texture to him, something she wants to stroke
When she squeezes her eyes shut, the colors just hurt.
She only pretends to sleep that night, listening to Simon toss
and turn and hiss when he hits a sore spot.
River had thrown a lot of things. A lot of rutting *shiny* things
that it wasn't Simon's fault he used.
She listens, and she waits, and when he begins to snore in that
dry, restless way that means he's only asleep because he's
exhausted, she crawls into bed with him again.
Waits for her eyes to adjust.
So smart, so long away in all the best schools on all the best
Her brother who loves her so *much*...
Like a bundle of ache right in the center of him, something she
could reach out and touch if she understood herself better.
If she wasn't afraid of hurt.
Instead, she eases closer and nudges him gently until he's flat
on his back, waiting, waiting. She remembers the last summer
he came home from school instead of staying home, and the
image of him as being all arms and legs.
"Waterjumper," she whispers, and his brow furrows slightly.
She remembers how *serious* he'd been, all of a sudden, scolding
her away from his personal lab, his books. Lecturing... She tries
"*Waterjumper*," and she digs her nails into her palms, useless
little fists at her sides. Words don't work for her anymore.
He'd only wanted her to understand him, the new him. She knows
that now, maybe in the way she knows so many little things,
maybe just in the way sisters know brothers.
She knows her brother.
But he doesn't know her anymore.
The first kiss is strange, dry and soft and passive and scratchy.
River moves from his cheek to his forehead, and that's a little
better, the worry lines giving her lips something more... natural
to catch on.
There's a hurt in her palms she doesn't understand until she rests
one on her brother's side, just under his pajama shirt.
The warmth is at once soothing and electrifying and... yes.
She kisses his forehead again, too afraid of the strange looseness
in her throat to do anything about it for the moment.
It's enough to stroke up to her brother's ribcage, pressing harder
than she wants to because she knows he's ticklish. It's enough to
breathe in his scent and feel herself *pulse* with everything she's
vaguely, distantly aware she's not thinking about. With the
indescribable *closeness* of it all.
The *at last* of it, and River can't wait. Presses close and hides
her gasp in a kiss to Simon's slack mouth, another. Another, and
her impatience with Simon's passivity makes her forget her
reasoning and she bites down, just once, clutching hard when
"River...?" So muzzily beautiful, and this close she can feel that
he'd been hardening against her belly, and oh, oh, she could be
*soft* for him --
"Soft. Hard... *Brother*."
"What...? I -- River, what --"
Kisses him again, or tries to, but he pushes her away and stares,
blinking in the gloom. She hears herself make a noise like an
animal and grabs his forearms because this is... they're so
"River, we can't *do* this, I'm your brother --"
"Brother, yes, brother, *please*..." Slides her fingers along his
arms, fingertips catching at the fine hairs and she's not sure
which one of them is shivering, only that they could be so
Simon clutches her *hard* for a moment and then lets go
completely, scrabbling back on the bed and against the wall.
"All right. All right. Obviously, I've been remiss about your
care. There's more going on --"
It stops him, paused like an Alliance servo with no charge left,
and for a moment River doesn't understand why.
"You said my name." There's something between horror and joy
on his face, and River can only nod.
Reach for him.
"You said my name -- oh, God, River it's been so *long*!" He
grabs her hand, and there it is again. The connection, the love
he feels burning past the confusion and fear, or trying to.
And it's one of those moments of *knowing*. She can have this,
change the way this will go, if she only... speaks. "Simon," she
says, squeezing his hand and crawling across the landscape of
rumpled bedding .
"Simon," she says, and brings their joined hands up to his face.
Down to her belly, and below.
"Simon," she says, and kisses him. Drinks his moan with a
"River, please don't do this..." But his hand, his good, clever hand
is moving. Learning her.
And River smiles.