Written by Alison M. DOBELL
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No touching but she wants to so much that it causes a momentary blindness to everything but the craving for sensation. Completeness. She wants to touch him, feel him, move him, consume every part of who he is so she can claim it, own it, and make him her own. He doesn't know it yet, does not fathom that he is the anchor that keeps her sane. Not Simon. Not the drugs. Nor even the welcome sensation of home thrumming beneath her bare feet as she walks in time to the rythym of Serenity's reassuring heart. She loves them all because they are all part of him.
In her quest River lets her mind shift gears, become the focus of thoughts honed to laser sharpness. An accurate beam that has a razor edge beyond anything Jayne can achieve with his knives or Simon with his scapel nor the Captain with his harsh and oft' times ascerbic wit. There is nothing so sharp or deadly about Kaylee but the brightness of her smile can sometimes cut through solid steel and there is not a heart aboard that is immune to it. The Preacher is all hidden angles and traps, covered in a softness which is borrowed not owned though the division has grown narrower over time. Eyes showing so many levels of meaning behind his purpose. Wanting to be simple the Preacher had stepped out into the 'verse not knowing that his addition to it made everything more complicated not less. A sharp mind but no mathematician. And Zoe, a weapon in every plane of her body, every part of the ordered core of her. The hard glittering adamantine line that not even the Devil has the nerve to cross. Then there is Wash, the antidote to all that ails his wife. The choice between light and shadow made in a heartbeat that will last forever.
River thinks often about Inara. The teasing tension between her and the Captain a flow of pain filled almost-caresses that would be all kinds of wrong if allowed to flourish to its' epogee. The heat of prickly friendship is less destructive though even that has grown into something softer, something both can live with and cherish. River does not worry about Inara knowing the Companion is all too aware of every decision she makes and that her own harsh reality has an edge to it as bitter as anything the Captain could endure. River does not want to endure. To sit on the sidelines. Be excluded from that which her mind and body craves even as her soul aches to fill all the incomplete places she sees in this cornucopia of moving parts that is the ship's crew. Serenity. She is his and he is hers and all that live within that amalgum of blood and steel sings of home to her. A silent passion that hits her hardest when the blood heats with want and need and all the things she cannot confide to her brother still less confess on the altar of an alternative God.
Six years. She cannot believe they have been together on this boat for so long and yet it feels as if they have always been here. It is where they belong. The realisation draws a happy smile on her pale face, eyes shining with thousands of memory fragments pieced together in a mind that never sleeps. They are moving about on their separate journeys yet all travel together. She can feel each and every one of them as they sail through the Black. Wash and Zoe lost the first baby but a new one is coming. Simon doesn't know yet, the egg is still dodging the sperm but she can feel it, follow the course of the possibility as the couple reach their zenith. Warm damp heat exciting the passion between them as the bliss of coitus removes the tension of another day. River didn't really interfere, just nudged a little to get the zygot home. Sanctuary. Baby will be safe now. But no touching.
Simon and Kaylee married in the Spring two years ago. It amazes River that Kaylee waited so long until her brother finally got off the fence and made his move. Would have served him right if Kaylee had moved on but it wouldn't have been fair to her friend. Kaylee deserved better, now she had it and River was relieved and pleased. They were parts that fitted together, also when Kaylee was happy the Captain was happy too. Parent, brother, friend, protector - so many hats for one head to wear yet only one heart. Battered, traumatised but true. River had set her sights on Mal long ago, little by little inching her way towards her goal. Careful not to frighten him off or have her brother drag her kicking and screaming from the only home she wanted to a life on the run away from the metal walls that held her safe and the arms she craved. No touching. She knew what it was to love from afar but each year in the Black that distance was closing.
It had occurred fairly early on to River that her brother could not cure her. As brilliant as Simon was he could not undo what had been done to her and the evolving cocktail of drugs became a rollercoaster ride that owed more to Russian roulette than reasoned clinical research. So River sat down one night while all the ship was sleeping and did the math. Then she had carefully and slowly ordered the broken pieces of her psyche back into their former roles, acting out responses that would lead Simon to believe she was healing. Getting better. And she was. But not from the drugs. People had broken her and only people could heal her. Not any people but the ones on this ship. As she improved Simon cut back on the drugs he was giving her, his heart soaring with hope and joy at the remission. Until finally, at last, she was not only drug free but coherent. Simon did not need to know that what she had been like before was kept inside so that the echo of who she was could be with them. Yet sometimes, when she looked at the Captain, it was as if he knew. A small smile would grace her lips, a gentle sad one flicker on his own. Only her promise stopped her from dancing over to him and letting her lips tell his what her heart longed to say.
Now they were out on a job. Mal, Zoe, Jayne and the Shepherd. Simon and Kaylee were laughing and teasing each other when Simon realised his sister had been awfully quiet for longer than was normal. "River?"
River did not want to shift her focus. She frowned slightly. "Trouble."
Simon's heart missed a beat. Kaylee touched his arm to reassure him but the doctor was tensing up, as if all River's efforts to appear normal were slipping away in one moment. It hurt him to think he might have to medicate her all over again. "River, how do you feel?"
She turned her head. "Double crossed. The friend who wasn't a friend."
"What ya sayin', River? You sayin' the Cap'n an' the others were betrayed?"
"Worse than turning the other cheek."
Kaylee and Simon exchanged a look. River waited to see if they would get what she was saying but they just stared blankly.
Then River sprang to her feet and left, her feet slapping quietly on the deck plates. For a moment Simon and Kaylee did not speak then Kaylee sat in Simon's lap and gave him a gentle kiss.
"And she was getting so much better." Lamented a sad Simon.
Kaylee said nothing, her arms around her husband. A flicker of worry burning in the back of her mind while inwardly she prayed that River was wrong and that this was not a sign of the dementia they feared was returning. But neither of them knew it had never left.
River only went to her bunk to retrieve her boots. Quickly donning them she then went to Jayne's bunk and made a careful search for the correct armament. The Captain's rule in tatters in her mind when his life was in the balance. She wasn't a child any more but a woman with a mind of her own. Time he found out first hand but first she had to save him. Only one rule would be broken. For six years there had been no touching.
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