He worked delicately, instinctively. He worked quietly – listening and feeling his way. The others didn't understand his methods: where they would force it open, he used finesse. He hoped that when he finished, no one would see his fingerprints around the edges.
"Bright! Too bright, high luminosity, fluorescent lights, flickering shadows, sharp edges... No! No needles, Simon!"
"Please River, calm down. You need to sleep. The needle will only make you sleep."
"Sharp pain, a bite, a mosquito, taking my blood, taking it to be tested, taking it to prove it's mine, to prove who I am and what I can do. Leaves behind a bump, an itch you can't scratch, a disease, paralysis. Stuck in a wheelchair on a Firefly, won't work, too many stairs, Simon!"
"I know it hurts, River, but just for a brief moment. And then you can rest and when you wake up you'll feel better."
"Never feel better, broken, shattered brain, broken, shattered body, rebuilt, like a robot, like a Firefly, safe in the Black, safer in the black, turn out the lights, turn off the lights, too bright, too much, please Simon, please."
"I'm sorry, River, I'm so sorry."
"I don't like needles, Simon."
"I know mei mei. You never did."
He tried so hard, listening so carefully, feeling so gently, but instinct wasn't his strength. He had to rely on trial and error, first this thing, then that thing, maybe both together. Every moment seemed another failure, another lost chance at opening the door.
"I'm sorry, Simon, I didn't mean to wake you up. Didn't mean to scream. They never let me scream in the white room. Not in the brown room either. It was okay in the red room though. 'Scream as much as you want in the red room, no one will hear.' No one can hear you scream in the Black either, but that's okay. Safe in the Black, right Simon?"
"Shh, mei mei. It's late, you should be asleep."
"You need sleep too, Simon. There's a job tomorrow; you need to be ready for the blood and bullets."
"Yes, the Captain does seem to have a certain skill for getting injured, doesn't he, River. I never realized how many different traumas one body could withstand until we stepped onto this ship."
"Life of a trauma surgeon is the same as a soldier; long moments of boredom punctuated by bursts of sheer terror. Tomorrow will be a terror day. You'll be the Sergeant of Healing, the Captain of the infirmary. Won't last long – soldiers are always in higher demand than healers."
"You're yawning, River. Lie back down, go to sleep. It's cold in the chair, curl up in bed with the blanket."
"You'll stay with me for a little while, Simon?"
"As long as you need me, mei mei."
He worked tirelessly, drawing derision from those who didn't understand patience. Each small victory gave him hope, provided him with fresh strength that even a full night of sleep couldn't have granted. Each failure seemed huge, draining him of the will to carry on. But still he continued.
"Can't find me!"
"River? Where are you? This is no time for games, River. We've gained so much momentum, I don't want to stop now."
"Must stop. Not momentum if you are going in the wrong direction."
"Wrong… River, are you feeling okay? Are you having a reaction? Please, come here so I can make sure you are all right."
"Feeling fine, Simon. Didn't go wrong yet. But soon. Need time off, to play, to be a girl, not an experiment."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize… is that why you have the nightmares? Do I remind you of… them? Gah! Where did you come from?"
"You are a good brother. You don't remind me of them. Just want to play. Want you to play."
"We can play, River. You are probably right."
"Whatever, River. What do you want to play?"
"Let's find Kaylee. She knows all the best games!"
"River, let go. Come on, River. Let me go now, mei mei. River!"
In the end, it was partly him, partly her, partly them, partly luck. Certain things needed their force, their daring. Certain things needed his finesse, his knowledge. Certain things needed luck's serendipity, luck's good fortune. But in the end, it came down to her. Her courage, her genius, her instinct. She was the final door, and it took all of them to push it open.
"River? You in here?"
"Where else would the pilot be?"
"Right, yes of course. Look, River, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ignore you, I just…"
"You've always been an idiot, Simon. It's okay. I'm not angry. I've got so much to learn and catch up on, and you've got months of being stupid to make up for."
"Oh, thanks a lot, River."
"Simon? You did it. You saved me. Then you fixed me."
"You fixed yourself, and you saved all of us."
"But you did it first. Simon, we were meant to be here, on Serenity."
"You… know that? Absolutely?"
"Absolutely. Where else could you learn to pick apart the locks that kept me trapped, if not a smuggler's ship?"